Canton’s Route, Wesneski together at states

The worst day of their senior season happened together. Wrestling off for the starting spot at 195 pounds was something neither Connor Route nor Garrett Wesneski wanted to do.

It was a necessary evil, however. They both understood the consequences of the match in the Canton wrestling room. There was no hostility when Wesneski, the returning state qualifier, won the spot in the starting lineup. There was no anger between the two.

This was just business. It was business the two friends would have rather have not had to take care of, but business nonetheless.

“I hated doing it because we’ve been practice partners since eighth grade,” Wesneski said. “But there were no problems between us. We’ve pushed each other all year.”

“It was very difficult, but at the end, we knew it had to happen,” Route said. “We weren’t mad at each other. We’re friends as soon as we step off the mat. When we wrestled, we went hard, but after we were good friends that’s how it has to be.”

The two have built a brotherhood in their four years at Canton which goes beyond just practice partners in the wrestling room. These are two athletes who have driven the success of the school’s athletic teams in the last four years.

These are two players who were the ace pitchers of the Canton baseball team which reached the state final last spring. These were two stalwarts on the football team who epitomized physicality, toughness and leaders in the huddle.

Now their relationship is taking an extra step as they’ll both be competing at the PIAA Wrestling Championships beginning Thursday at the Giant Center in Hershey. Wesneski won the 195-pound championship at last weekend’s PIAA Class AA Northeast Regional tournament. Route followed one match later winning the 220-pound title as one of the most surprising champions of the tournament.

“This means everything to me. He’s like a brother to me,” Route said after receiving his gold medal. “Just coming up through ninth grade and wrestling each other every night, dreaming of this moment from pee wee wrestling It’s an amazing feeling to be going there.”

It’s not that Wesneski’s spot at the state tournament was a guarantee. But he had been the class of 195 pounds in District 4 for much of the season. He is one of just two returning state placewinners in the state at 195 pounds and has spent the entire season ranked No. 2 in the state.

He proved over the last two weekends he was worthy of the ranking when he beat Benton’s Logan Womelsdorf, a returning state qualifier, in the finals of both the District 4 and Northeast Regional tournaments. His spot at states from the start of the postseason has been assumed with as well as he’s wrestled this year. His only loss came when he bumped up a weight in a dual meet to wrestle Wyalusing state qualifier Dylan Otis, and it took overtime to be handed that loss.

Route’s – forgive me – route to the state tournament was a little more unpredictable. His ability has never been questioned. He was an above .500 wrestler as a freshman competing at 215 and 220 pounds. His 116 career wins and .834 career winning percentage are perfect examples of just how outstanding his career at Canton has been.

But he’s often been bumped out of what has been his natural weight class because of Wesneski, as was the case this year. Route spent the entire season weighing in to be eligible for the 195-pound weight class. It offered head coach Lyle Wesneski some flexibility in his lineup which was one of the most potent upper weight lineups in the district.

Route put it all together last week, though, a week after finishing fourth at the District 4 tournament. He upset GAR’s Zac Faust, maybe District 2’s second-best hope for a regional title, in the quarterfinals before beating Montoursville’s Ben Cerney in the semifinals. Route followed it up with a win over Hughesville’s Ethan Barnes in the final, a week after Barnes had beaten him for third place at the district tournament.

He put together the perfect tournament at the perfect time. His reward is his first trip to Hershey.

“I am pumped. I am ecstatic. I can’t really put it into words,” Route said. “It’s definitely different because it all your heart and soul and it’s just you out there. All the pressure is on you.”

Wesneski has become a wrestler molded by being a three-sport athlete for the Warriors. He played both quarterback and on the offensive line for the Warriors in his time at Canton. He was also the starting pitcher in the state final last year with an 85-plus mph fastball.

He can see how each sport has helped mold him in the others. And now here he sits, with just three days at most left in his high school wrestling career and he’s decided this is something he wants to do in college as well.

Wesneski is getting Division I attention as a wrestler from the likes of Bloomsburg, Appalachian State and Maryland. He’s also received college attention as a pitcher, but at smaller schools.

“The more I think about it, I want to be an All-American,” Wesneski said. “I don’t think anyone in Canton has ever made it to the NCAA tournament, or started long enough to get there. So that’s my No. goal.”

With his second consecutive top-8 finish at the state tournament, Wesneski can become the first two-time state placewinner for Canton since Brock Parker and Kasey Lyon each won their second medal in 2008. And now, Wesneski will have his workout partner with him as company as they both compete at the highest level of Pennsylvania high school wrestling.

The two have spent the past four years pushing each other in practice. But the last three days might be the most special.