Montoursville’s Bassett a light heavyweight, but a winning one so far
Connor Bassett ate a good breakfast the morning of the final day of the Top Hat wrestling tournament. Making weight isn’t too much of a concern for the Montoursville senior.
Heck, he would have been able to eat breakfast for the entire Montoursville wrestling team and not had to worry about making weight. Bassett was a little on the small side for the 285-pound bracket at the Top Hat. It didn’t deter him from winning the 285-pound championship, though.
Bassett weighed in on the second day of the season-opening tournament at only 203 pounds. Not exactly ideal conditions to try and win one of the best season-opening tournaments in the state. But it’s something Bassett has gotten used to in the last two years.
He’s been part of a interchangeable cast of wrestlers with Ben Cerney at 220 and 285 pounds for the Warriors for each of the past two seasons. It doesn’t appear there’s going to be any change in the method by head coach Jamie Yonkin any time soon, which means Bassett, despite his diminutive stature – as diminutive as 203 pounds can be – is going to see more matches in the 285-pound weight class.
But it’s quite OK by the senior. He understands his role within a Montoursville team which has potential to be one of the better dual-meet teams in the district, and a darn dangerous tournament team.
“It’s slightly frustrating because you don’t get to wrestle your weight, but you get over it and you go wrestle,” Bassett said after winning the 285-pound title at the Top Hat. “We understand it’s about what gives the team the best result.”
At the Top Hat, the best result was Bassett winning at 285 and Cerney taking third at 220 to lead to a third-place finish for the Warriors in the team race.
It may not be an ideal situation for Bassett, but he understands how he has to compete with athletes which weigh often far more than he does. In the finals of the Top Hat, he faced Clearfield’s Jake Verchick, a wrestler more his size who weighed in at just 210 pounds, optimizing Bassett’s chance of winning.
In fact, Verchick and Bassett’s combined weight in the 285-pound final was less than that of Central Mountain’s Cameron Porter (208 pounds) and South Western’s Seth Janney (213 pounds) in the 220-pound final.
It’s not a deterrent, though, for Bassett. He understands how he has to wrestle 285-pounders who may be around his size. He understands how he has to wrestle 285-pounders who are bigger than him. And he understands there’s going to be a select few he could be in for a long 6 minutes with.
“With a heavy heavyweight, you just have to keep going the whole time and wear him down and score in the third period and pin him,” Bassett said. “If it’s not a heavy heavyweight, it’s a lot more shooting in the first period and trying to get those points right away. But if you get a guy who’s 285 and athletic, there’s no winning.”
Bassett and Cerney wrestled off just once last year for the right to go at 220 pounds in the postseason. Bassett took the opportunity to go at 220 pounds and qualified for the regional tournament. Cerney qualified for the District 4 tournament at 285 pounds last year, finishing with a 2-2 record in the tournament before being eliminated.
The truth is either Bassett or Cerney could have a successful season wrestling at either 220 or 285 pounds. And the truth is both will get the opportunity to be successful at each weight as the season progresses.
The two are great friends. They’re lifting partners. They’re workout partners in wrestling. They’re drill partners during football season. And most importantly, they understand what the greater good is. And they’re working to prepare themselves to be able to handle the challenge at each weight class.
But winning when out of their comfort zone, just like Bassett did at the Top Hat? Well, that’s a reason for optimism.
“It means a lot,” Bassett said. “It really kicks off the season right.”
Matt Herr wrestled all over the lineup a year ago. He was certified at 152 pounds, and even wrestled three matches there as late as the middle of January. But he also wrestled matches at 160 and 170 pounds, often times far undersized to compete with his opponents’ strength.
But there he was a week ago, finding himself in the Top Hat finals at 182 pounds, looking much stronger than he did a year, looking much better prepared to handle the mix of strength and quickness that comes at that weight class.
“I’ve been lifting all summer. I’m twice as strong as I was,” the Hughesville senior said after winning his first Top Hat championship. “I was planning on getting bigger. I’ve always wrestled bigger even I’ve been a little smaller. So I said I might as well try to get bigger.”
It’s a combination of a stellar wrestler who saw his career blossom last year with a 28-10 record and a spot in the district tournament, along with a wrestler being just as strong as his opponents and maybe even better conditioned.
Herr watched all of those attributes come together a week ago. In maybe the most complete tournament of his career, he recorded two falls – including one in 17 seconds – and a major decision before beating Montoursville’s Lucas Shaheen, the weight class’s top seed, in the finals, 1-0.
It was a brilliant performance from a wrestler poised to take an even bigger step forward than the one he took a year ago.
“It feels a lot better on the mat,” Herr said. “My conditioning is so much better and a lot of the guys I wrestle are slower. I feel quicker from when I was smaller. My strength, I’ve really put it all together.
“I actually thought I could have done better (in the finals). I just wasn’t getting the corners on my shots. I feel like the score could have been further apart.”
Herr gets the benefit of a varied practice room working out and drilling with the likes of Robert White and Ethan Barnes. White, Hughesville’s 170-pounder, gives Herr an opponent with a little more quickness. Barnes, the Spartans’ 220-pounder, gives Herr and opponent who has more strength and can be a bull on top.
“I feel like I can get out on anyone,” Herr said. “I’m used to having Ethan on top. He’s a bigger guy and he does a good job holding me down.”
Herr’s Top Hat title was just the confidence-booster he needed. He already knew he was capable with just about anyone who steps on the line across from him, but the tournament win proved he can beat anybody.
“I still have to keep growing and looking for bigger things,” Herr said. “I’m at the top now and I have a bulls-eye on my back now after winning this. So I have to be ready to go.”
Denny Harer has never been one to take losses well. But even after Tuesday’s 43-26 loss to Warrior Run to open the dual-meet season, Harer knew he had a lot to be excited about.
He saw great effort from a team which started eight freshmen and sophomores. He saw great effort from wrestlers just returning to the sport who were beaten because of one mistake. They were all things to look forward to for a team which is already banged up a week into the season.
“We have some good, young kids that were in tight matches that could go either way,” Harer said after the loss. It’s 43-26, but in reality it was a lot closer match than that.”
Scott Appleman was in a one-point match at 220 pounds before getting caught on his back and pinned. Abien Berry lost to returning state qualifier Eric Hunt, 12-2, but he made Hunt work for every point. Hunter Gardner got caught in what looked like a Greco-Roman match before being caught in a throw and pinned.
Wrestlers who give the kind of effort those three did give Harer and assistant coach Ron Hembury something to work with.
“I’m real happy with Scotty Appleman. The kid hasn’t wrestled in while, but he’s right there,” Harer said. “He’s just going to keep getting better and better. It’s the same thing with Hunter Gardner who’s been out for about a week and a half. We’re just going to keep getting better.”
WRESTLER OF THE WEEK
Warrior Run, 132 pounds
LeBarron opened up his season with a stellar win at the DKI in Bloomsburg. He defeated former state qualifier Shawn Nitcznski of Sullivan County in the finals, 6-4. LeBarron followed it up with a quality 6-2 win over Muncy’s Andy Aguilar in a dual meet on Tuesday. Four of LeBarron’s wins during the week went for bonus points. LeBarron started the season ranked 20th in the state at 132 pounds, and he’s sure to climb those rankings quickly with more weeks like this.
OF THE WEEK
Warrior Run at Montoursville, Thursday, 7 p.m.
This should be an intriguing battle of Warrior Run’s talented group of lightweights against a potentially dominating group of upper weight wrestlers from Mount Carmel. A potential matchup of Garrett Hoffman and Dan Breech should be enough to keep anyone intrigued. These are two teams you could end up hearing a lot about come time for the District 4 Duals tournament.