Hoffman beats No. 1-ranked wrestler in country

BETHLEHEM — Gavin Hoffman was so exhausted, he couldn’t even celebrate his win. He tried to lift his arms, but they got about halfway up before collapsing.

It took every ounce of energy the Montoursville senior had Sunday afternoon, but with his 7-6 win over Malvern Prep’s Michael Beard at FloWrestling’s Who’s #1 event, Hoffman became the No. 1-ranked 195-pound wrestler in the country. In an exhibition which pits two of the best high school wrestlers at each weight against one another, Hoffman secured his spot atop the 195-pound rankings at Lehigh University’s Grace Hall with a flurry of first-period points and a will to hang on at the end.

It was by no means the best match Hoffman has ever wrestled, but for this moment, it was plenty good enough. He was one of six wrestlers to knock off a No. 1-ranked wrestler Sunday afternoon in the sweltering, suffocating heat of Leeman-Turner Arena.

“My goal this summer was to become the best in the United States. I just did that,” Hoffman said. “Now that I did it, I feel more motivated than ever. I know that I need to work harder than ever now to keep that No. 1 ranking. Ultimately, I don’t want to be just No. 1 in the country, but No. 1 in the world.”

This entire offseason has been about achieving both those rankings for Hoffman, and he nearly pulled it off. Sunday’s win makes him the undisputed top 195-pounder in the country. It follows up wins at NHSCA Nationals and FloNationals in the spring. He also took home the cadet national championship in June and was a world bronze medalist in September.

This win Sunday, though, was his only chance to take on Beard, a Penn State commit because Malvern Prep isn’t a PIAA school. Beard, a multi-time prep national champion who won at the 2016 Who’s #1 event, doesn’t attend any of the same in-season high school tournaments as Hoffman and Montoursville.

So when the idea was first broached in the middle of the summer to have Hoffman and Beard duke it out at Who’s #1, Hoffman’s three-word response on Twitter was simply “Let’s do it.”

In the first period he was a flurry of action, countering off half-shots by Beard to get in deep. His used his turn-off-the-lights-and-get-into-bed-before-it’s-dark quickness to counter Beard’s bench-press-a-Buick strength and get deep on his legs. Hoffman found some way to get a takedown in a scramble which most definitely should have been two points for Beard.

Hoffman pushed his lead to 4-1 at the end of the first period when he snatched Beard’s ankle with a rattlesnake-like quick strike. He circled hard and drove into Beard to secure his second takedown as the period ended. It was as perfect a first period as Hoffman could have imagined against Beard.

“In practice, I get myself into those positions, and I like to get in those, get in every single position I can and score off of it,” Hoffman said. “He didn’t get that takedown because of in here (pointing at his chest). He didn’t get that takedown because I fought and I didn’t give up. That was a clear takedown for him, but I didn’t give up.”

That was the last Hoffman was able to breathe easily. Beard was relentless over the final two periods, scoring a takedown in each the second and third periods, including one with 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining which tied the match at 6-6. But he almost immediately cut Hoffman loose, as he had done throughout the rest of the bout, and worked for the match-winning takedown.

It never came. Despite his exhaustion, Hoffman was able to fight off any attempt at that final score. The two-time PIAA Class AA 195-pound champion got a pat on the back from Beard as they walked toward the center of the mat following the final whistle. The two won’t wrestle again this year, so barring an upset of major proportions, Hoffman is likely to carry that No. 1 ranking with him through the high school wrestling season.

But he knows Sunday’s match was just the start for he and Beard. Both are Big 10-bound with Beard committing to wrestle at Penn State and Hoffman headed to Ohio State. And Hoffman knows what happened Sunday is only going to fuel the fire for the next time the two meet when wrestling at 197 pounds in college.

“This is going to be a long-term rivalry. We’re going to wrestle so many more times after this,” Hoffman said. “But it’s great to start off with a win over him. I know next time he’s going to come even harder.”

Hoffman said this has been the most important offseason of his career. While the two state championships for Montoursville are nice — he’s the only multi-time state champion in school history — it’s been the off-season tournaments and showcases where he’s elevated his name on both a national and international level.

But all Hoffman could talk about afterward was how his conditioning was exposed by Beard. He knew he wasn’t strong at the end of the six minutes, and he even thanked Beard for exposing his conditioning level so he had something to work on moving forward.

For a moment, though, that didn’t matter. For a brief time following Sunday’s bout, Hoffman was able to revel in the fact that the work he has put in has led him to being the top-ranked wrestler in the country at his weight class.

“Props to him for saying yes to wrestling me. He was No. 1 and he had everything to lose and nothing to gain by doing this,” Hoffman said. “This means so much to me. To come in here and get it done, words can’t describe it. Even though I didn’t wrestle my match, I got the ‘W’ and it’s all that matters.”

Team Black 30,

Team Green 9

113: No. 2 Kurt McHenry (MD), Green, dec. No. 1 Malik Heinselman (CO/Ohio State), Black, 8-7. Green leads, 3-0.

120: No. 4 Pat McKee (MN/Minnesota), Black, dec. No. 1 Robert Howard (NJ), Green, 7-5. Match tied 3-3.

170: No. 1 Trent Hidlay (PA), Black, pinned No. 2 Julian Ramirez (FL), Green, 6:10. Black leads 9-3.

152: No. 2 Brayton Lee (IN), Green, dec. No. 6 Justin McCoy (PA/Virginia), Black, 7-3. Black leads 9-6.

126: No. 3 Pat Glory (NJ/Princeton), Black, dec. No. 2 Gavin Teasdale (PA/Penn State), Green, 3-0. Black leads 12-6.

132: No. 2 Joey Silva (FL/Michigan), Black, dec. No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young (AZ/Penn State), Green, 3-1, sv. Black leads 15-6.

138: No. 1 Jacori Teemer (NY/Arizona State), Black, dec. No. 3 Mitch Moore (Ohio/Virginia Tech), Green, 4-2. Black leads 18-6.

160: No. 1 David Carr (OH), Black, dec. No. 2 Joe Lee (IN, Penn State), Green, 6-1. Black leads 21-6.

125 female (freestyle): No. 1 Gracie Figueroa (CA), Green, dec. No. 1 Macey Kilty (WI), Black, 6-4. Black leads 21-9.

195: No. 2 Gavin Hoffman (PA/Ohio State), Black, dec. No. 1 Micheal Beard (PA/Penn State), Green, 7-6. Black leads 24-9.

145: No. 3 Sammy Sasso (PA), Black, pinned No. 1 Anthony Artalona (FL/Pennsylvania), Green, 3:50. Black wins 30-9.