Bison wrestlers win one at home

LEWISBURG — The toughest two matches of Tyler Smith’s season were the first two he wrestled back in November. Fol­lowing his and Bucknell’s win over Franklin & Mar­shall on Tuesday night at Sojka Pavilion, the junior said he was thankful to get those tough matches to start the season.

The losses to national champion Dean Heil and All-American Randy Cruz were tough for the Bison 141-pounder to take. But they gave him a barometer of just where he was as a wrestler and just how much more effort he had to put into the sport.

Smith sure looks like he’s responded to those losses well. He’s won 13 of his last 16 bouts, including Tuesday’s 14-2 major decision, as the Bison beat the Diplomats, 33-6. Bucknell also picked up wins from Lewisburg graduate Jor­dan Gessner (decision at 125 pounds), Central Moun­tain graduate Chad Reese (decision at 174) and Mon­toursville graduate Garrett Hoffman (technical fall at 184) as it won its first dual of the season.

“I think it was a great start (to the second semester),” Reese said. “I like that our first competition back from the break was at home. We had a decent amount of people here to support us, and I think we put on a good show.”

Put on a show, the Bi­son did. They recorded 25 takedowns in the 10 bouts, eight of which came in D.J. Hollingshead’s win at 157. Bucknell recorded multiple takedowns in six of its eight wins. And Tom Sleigh didn’t have time to record a second takedown at 197 because he picked up a fall in 53 seconds.

Smith was in the middle of the takedown fest, recording four against the Diplomats’ Paddy Quinlan. The junior from Franklin Regional High School who is ranked 17th by Flo­Wrestling, was dominant. He posted his second consecutive bonus-point win for the Bison and is reaching the level he knows he needs to be at if he wants to be the first All-American for Bucknell since 2011.

“It’s just about getting back to work and continuing to believe in what the coaches are telling me to do,” Smith said. “They’ve all reached levels of success I haven’t gotten to yet, so I’m fortunate to have those guys put me in the right direction.”

And part of getting him in the right direction was having him face Oklahoma State’s Heil and Lehigh’s Cruz, all within the first couple weeks of the season. He lost to Heil, 14-7, and again to Cruz, 9-3.

But Smith didn’t walk away from the matches irritated. He walked away motivated. He went 4-0 at the Navy Classic, beating nationally-ranked Jared Prince of Navy to win the 141-pound title. He defeated nationally-ranked Prince and Brock Zacherl of Clarion at the Cliff Keen Invitational. And he finished fifth at the Cleveland State Open, going 5-1, with his only loss coming to Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher, 7-5.

Last night’s win was his 13th since falling to Cruz on Nov. 11, and he appears to only be getting stronger.

“I say it all the time and I’ve said it a lot lately, but I’ve been in this business for 21 years and he’s, if not the most, one of the most talented guys I’ve ever been around,” Bucknell head coach Dan Wirnsberger said. “He believes in himself. It’s a matter of getting him to believe in himself a little bit more at the right time of year and taking it to his opponent, no matter who he is wrestling, because he’s a special guy.”

And a young lineup, which last night featured four true freshmen and a sophomore, are following the cues being given by Smith and other upperclassmen, like NCAA qualifiers Sleigh and Victor Lopez. A high-paced, high-energy, aggressive attitude has permeated through a talented group of freshmen.

Even though Gessner scored just four points — including a reversal with one second left to win — he was constantly in on leg attacks last night. His first-period takedown set the tone for his 4-2 win. Hoffman was punishing in the top position, wearing out Franklin & Marshall’s wins leader, Anthony Mancini on his way to a 16-0 technical fall. Hollings­head led 10-2 after two periods before putting on a takedown clinic in the final two minutes to earn a 22-6 win.

“Those guys have definitely bought in. Those guys have come in here with a goal and a mission,” Reese said. “I think they’re performing beyond what has been expected, which is awesome.”

“I think a lot of them had so much success in high school that they carry that confidence in here with them,” Wirnsberger said. “They’ve hit some bumps in the road, and some have hit cement walls, but they’re the kind of kids that they roll up their sleeves and sayd what do I need to do to get better? This freshman class we have is a special class. Their future is bright here.”

125: Jordan Gessner, B, dec. Edgar Garcia, 4-2. 133: Dan Martoccio, F&M, dec. Joey Gould, 5-3. 141: Tyler Smith, B, maj. dec. Paddy Quinlan, 14-2. 149: Sam Butler, F&M, dec. Seth Hogue, 6-2. 157: Victor Lopez, B, maj. dec. Mike Berkowitz, 10-0. 165: D.J. Hollingshead, B, tech. fall Robbie King, 22-6, 6:59. 174: Chad Reese, B, dec. Jimmy Stillerman, 10-4. 184: Garrett Hoffman, B, tech. fall Anthony Mancini, 16-0, 6:32. 197: Tom Sleigh, B, pinned Jack Argast, :53. 285: Tyler Greene, B, dec. Corey Kerkesner, 10-5.

Takedowns: Bucknell 26, Franklin and Marshall 5.

Official: Mark Dawson.

Records: Bucknell (1-2, 1-1 EIWA); Franklin and Marshall (1-1, 0-1 EIWA).