Stahlnecker stronger and better so far

When Braden Stahlnecker was a freshman, his Hughesville head coach Steve Budman described the lightweight as a matchstick. That description was all about the skinny freshman and his fast-twitch movements doesn’t really fit Stahlnecker now four years later.

When the senior steps out on the mat now, he’s a far different wrestler than he was when he first stepped into Budman’s practice room. He’s still the same skilled wrestler he was when he was a 23-match winner as a freshman, but now he’s built more like a bodybuilder than a matchstick.

Prior to the season, Budman said Stahlnecker would be almost unrecognizable when the season started. He wasn’t wrong.

Stahlnecker devoted himself in the offseason to making himself stronger. After losing basically each of the last two seasons to injury, the senior wanted to strengthen his shoulders. It looks like he’s strengthened just about everything else, too.

“Strength brings on confidence,” Budman said following Hughesville’s win over Bloomsburg on Thursday. “We walk the hallways and tell everyone there’s nothing wrong with being strong. Getting strong is free, and you can do it right down that hall in the weight room. And it does a lot for any boy or girl’s confidence. And what it’s done for Braden, you can see that he’s physically stronger.”

The transition of his body has proven to be the right choice for Stahlnecker. He split his time equally this summer between getting stronger and becoming a physically better wrestler at the Bison Legend Club. And now, two weeks into the season, the senior leader of the Spartans is 11-2 with nine bonus-point wins, including five by fall.

“I’m feeling great. I’m feeling better than ever,” Stahlnecker said. “It was probably my main focus to get bigger and stronger. I wouldn’t say it was the most important part, but I would say it’s pretty even between getting stronger and improving my technique.”

That freshman year of Stahlnecker’s was an eye-opener. His 23 wins were key for a team which finished fourth in the District 4 Duals tournament, missing the state tournament for the second consecutive year by one win.

Stahlnecker was a district qualifier that year, finishing fourth at the Central Sectional tournament and helping the Spartans win the team title. It appeared to be just the start for Stahlnecker, who was poised to make great strides over the next couple seasons.

But he wrestled just 11 matches his sophomore season because of an injury. And last year as a junior he wrestled just eight more, winning them all, before an injury ended his season. Part of the reason Stahlnecker wanted to get stronger was to strengthen his shoulders, especially the right shoulder which sustained a severe labrum tear.

That was the main reason. An ancillary benefit is what it has done for his wrestling.

“When I was wrestling in the lighter weights, I couldn’t completely dominate my opponent strength-wise, so I thought it was the best way to dominate,” Stahlnecker said. “I feel different on the mat because I’m just so much more strong. It makes me a lot more confident. And it makes my technique even better.”

“There’s a lot to be said about it being his last go-round, too,” Budman said. “And with that shoulder injury, the last couple years just didn’t go his way. But if he was going to do this, he had to be strong.”

It’s hard to argue with the results. Stahlnecker finished fifth at the season-opening Top Hat tournament with his only losses coming to Line Mountain’s Collin Klinger, both of which were in overtime. To Stahlnecker, that result was just fine. Klinger was one of his two losses in the District 4 tournament as a freshman, and that was a 6-0 loss. Stahlnecker has closed the gap in the years since.

His first loss to Klinger at the Top Hat was in sudden victory when Klinger hit a five-point move to win 9-4. The second was in the tie-break, 4-1. But the result did not so much matter as the process for Stahlnecker. A fifth-place finish was still a step in the right direction.

“I felt like it was the perfect way to open my season and get a good challenge in,” Stahlnecker said. “It makes me want to do better and work harder, and hopefully I can win the next one. It certainly shows how much I need to improve.”

Stahlnecker has won 74 percent of his 69 career matches, and he’s proven he can win, and win consistently, on the varsity level. But now he wants more and that’s what his final varsity season is all about.

He doesn’t want to just get back to the District 4 tournament. His goals are much higher than that. In fact, he knows they’re probably too high when he says he not only wants to place at the state tournament, but he’d also like to win it.

He’s currently not listed in the papowerwrestling.com state rankings at 138 pounds, but if he keeps wrestling like this, it won’t be long before his name is among the best in the state.

“My overall goal? You might as well go big or go home,” Stahlnecker said. “You want to have your goals set high, so even if you don’t make that goal, you’re still satisfied with something below it.”

COLORADO-BOUND

The Benton lineup is going to take quite a hit in the new year as 106-pounder Vayle-Rae Baker is leaving the Tigers to join the United States Women’s National Team in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The junior is off to a good start this year with an 8-3 record. She finished sixth at last weekend’s Flo-Excalibur Tournament hosted by Wyoming Seminary.

Baker is coming off a sophomore season in which she was 9-1 for the Tigers in spot start duty. Baker was bumped out of the postseason lineup at 106 pounds by Joe Klock, who went on to finish seventh in the state.

She was a legitimate threat to become the first girl to qualify for the District 4 tournament this year, but instead will miss the final two-plus months of the season as she trains at the Olympic Training Center in a short-term residency program.

“For Vayle, this is a tremendous opportunity to train with some of the best women in the country on a regular basis,” Benton head coach Bryan Hart said. “We are extremely proud of her and will miss her greatly in our lineup and practice room.”

Over the summer, Baker was a Girls National Cadet Folkstyle champion. She was also a 2015 Junior Women’s Freestyle runner-up. She is currently ranked 11th among Cadet Women in USA Wrestling’s Future Olympian rankings.

Baker is the second wrestler from Benton to workout at the Olympic Training Center in the last year. Penn State NCAA champion Zain Retherford is a member of the USA Wrestling Men’s National team and is currently ranked third in country at 65 kg/143 pounds. Retherford was a 2012 Cadet World Champion, and finished third at last year’s Olympic Trials.

“Vayle is such a hard worker, quietly going about her business in the practice room, but physically and mentally preparing herself for the next challenge presented to her,” Hart said. “I hope she seizes this opportunity and gets everything possible out of it.”

POISED FOR A RUN

A year ago, Hughesville’s Josh Dauberman took an early-season loss to Warrior Run’s Hunter Bohannon and learned from it. It was a loss which left the heavyweight at 3-4 just a couple weeks into the season. But it was also a loss which was a springboard to a run of 23 consecutive wins for Dauberman.

It was a loss which helped propel Dauberman to a Central Sectional 285-pound championship. After that loss to Bohannon on Dec. 8, Dauberman didn’t lose again until the District 4 semifinals against eventual state placewinner Dawson Otis of Wyalusing.

Now, Hughesville head coach Steve Budman is hoping another early-season loss can help propel Dauberman on another kind of run. The Spartans’ senior lost during last weekend’s Gauntlet Tournament at Blue Mountain to Tri-Valley’s Danny Scheib, who is ranked fourth in the state. The 12-4 loss didn’t look good on the scoreboard, but the more Budman went back and watched the match, the more he liked what he saw.

“There’s a lot of really great things that came from that match,” Budman said. “Even in the third period, Josh didn’t back down. Josh probably knew the Tri-Valley kid won the Top Hat and was a pretty good wrestler. And to see Josh not back down and keep going after him, was a good thing.”

Dauberman didn’t compete in the Top Hat, but has started the season strong, going 5-1 with three falls to start his season. But Budman could see, after that loss to Scheib, Dauberman is already making adjustments to improve.

“Josh rode him and that guy couldn’t hold Josh down,” Budman said. “The next thing was, in the following matches, Josh was lowering that stance against everyone else which took away the chance of the low single which hurt him against the Tri-Valley kid. So that metamorphosis and learning is what we want to see.”

WRESTLER OF THE WEEK

Hunter Poust,

Muncy, 220 pounds

Not only was the junior named an all-state football player this week, but he maintained his unbeaten record with a pair of wins. Poust had maybe one of the most impressive wins in the district this year when he pinned AAA regional qualifier Max Mason of Jersey Shore during Thursday’s dual meet. Poust, who won the Top Hat in the first week of the season, was leading Mason, 7-6, when he recorded the fall. Of Poust’s six wins this year, five are by fall.

CAN’T-MISS MATCH

OF THE WEEK

Montoursville at Powerade Tournament,

Thursday and Friday

This is can’t miss for one reason and one reason alone: to follow 195-pounder Gavin Hoffman in an absolutely loaded field. Hoffman, who moved up to No. 4 this week in FloWrestling’s national rankings at 195 pounds, will be in a bracket with five other nationally-ranked wrestlers at 195 pounds. Defending 220-pound state champion of Cole Nye of Bishop McDevitt, who is ranked 19th in the country, is down to 195 and is expected in the tournament, as is Class AAA 182-pound state champ and AAA No. 1-ranked Jake Woodley of North Allegheny. Hoffman could also see AA No. 3 Anthony Walters of Bishop McCort and AAA No. 3 Colin McCracken of Waynesburg. Also expected to compete are DePaul’s (N.J.) Brandon Kui who is ranked seventh nationally, Bergen Catholic’s (N.J.) Josh McKenzie who is ranked 12th nationally, and Cave Springs’ (Va.) Noah Bushman, who is ranked 13th nationally.

Mitch Rupert covers high school wrestling for the Sun-Gazette and can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.

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