Warrior Run’s Hanford just having fun

Wrestling is fun for Jeremy Hanford. It’s what he’s focusing on in order to make his final season at Warrior Run exactly what he wants it to be.

The pressure of winning a state medal is behind him after finishing eighth in Class AA at 126 pounds in March. So the focus has shifted for Hanford. His final season with the Defenders is about having fun, letting it fly each time he steps on the mat, and seeing what happens.

It’s a philosophy which has seen Hanford succeed despite facing the toughest regular-season competition of his career to date. He heads into the Christmas break and another brutal tournament next week at Chambersburg’s Trojan Wars with having posted a dominant win over stellar Muncy freshman Bryce Vollman in their dual Tuesday night.

It wasn’t shocking that Hanford hit a big five-point move in the first period to set the tone, but the way he continued to pile on points afterward signaled this is a different Jeremy Hanford than the one who won Warrior Run’s first state medal since 2010 last season. As much as his physical wrestling ability is on point, his mental acumen for the sport and his confidence seems to have reached peak levels.

“Placing last year was my goal, now I want to get even higher on the podium,” Hanford said after that win over Vollman. “I’m definitely a lot more confident than I have been. Being a state medalist already, that’s really helped me.”

There’s no hesitation in Hanford’s wrestling right now. There’s no easing his way into big matches like there were at times a year ago. He wrestles with confidence and he moves with conviction, believing in everything he’s doing to try and score points.

But what’s really changed for Hanford are the expectations. Not the expectations of those around him, but his own expectations of himself.

Wrestling in the finals of the Darren Klingerman Invitational at Bloomsburg on the season’s opening weekend, Hanford was matched up with Brockway returning state sixth-place finisher Anthony Glasl. He won, 8-7. It was a season-defining kind of win in only his third bout of the season, but it was as much of a prescient result as anything.

No, Hanford hasn’t won every match he’s wrestled this season. But he has competed like he never has before. He hasn’t backed down from any opponent, including two-time state runner-up Louis Newell of Seneca Valley.

Instead, Hanford has maintained his heightened level of expectation for himself. He battled back from an early deficit against Newell to wrestle even with him over the final few minutes at the King of the Mountain.

He maintained that level of expectation when he needed four takedowns in the third period just to force overtime in the fifth-place match. So he did it, and then Hanford got one more in sudden victory to pick up the win.

“I think he’s starting to expect more from himself,” Warrior Run coach Jeremy Betz said. “I guess it goes hand in hand with the confidence. But he expects to be scoring points in those matches, which he’s done. If you’re taking down a guy who’s a two-time state runner-up in the third period, you’re doing something good.”

Hanford’s always been a six-minute wrestler, a guy who’s as dangerous in the final 30 seconds as he is in the first 30 seconds. But he’s added another dynamic which he thinks will help take his wrestling to another level.

Hanford spent the offseason focusing on getting stronger. A year ago, he was barely 126 pounds when he finished eighth in the state at that weight. Working with both Betz and assistant coach Jason Guffey, Hanford added muscle and size to his frame.

It was noticeable Tuesday night with his head and hands defense and how he could keep a fleet-footed Vollman at bay just with the strength in his hands. But the added muscle has also given him the strength to finish shots and score back points, all of which were on display Tuesday.

“I always try to be the stronger of the two guys out there,” Hanford said. “But this really helps me and I want to make sure I keep it on throughout the whole season and try not to cut down.”

“He’s always been tricky to score on because of his flexibility,” Betz said. “You want your guys to turn those defensive positions into offensive positions, and I think that’s more where it’s helped. It’s not about just stopping shots, but turning them into points from there.”

This has already been a fun season for Hanford. He’ll enter next week’s Trojan Wars at Chambersburg with a 9-2 record, and it’ll be a tough task to try and take home his second tournament title of the season.

But it’s this tough competition along with his improvements which is going to help him climb the steps of the Giant Center podium come March. But for now, he’s just worrying about having fun and letting it fly on the mat.

If he does that, the results will speak for themselves.

WRESTLER OF THE WEEK

Jacob Blair, Muncy

(113 pounds)

Blair’s tournament title in the Tom Best Memorial Top Hat Tournament during the season’s opening weekend was impressive. But what the Muncy sophomore did in his run to the King of the Mountain 113-pound championship last weekend was even more impressive. He reached the final with a 4-3 win over New Jersey state qualifier Cullen Day of Phillipsburg (N.J.). He followed it up with a win in the final over Mifflin County state eighth-place finisher Christian Fisher, 4-1. And just for good measure, Blair added a technical fall over Warrior Run state qualifier Noah Hunt on Tuesday night. Blair’s start to the season has been as eye-opening as anyone’s in District 4, and is going to make him a top contender in the state when he gets to 106 pounds.

Top 5 Team Rankings

1. Central Mountain; 2. Muncy; 3. Montoursville; 4. Warrior Run; 5. Milton.

Top 5 Pound-for-pound

1. Gavin Hoffman, Montoursville; 2. Wyatt Lutz, Montoursville; 3. Andrew Shedleski, Lewisburg; 4. Jacob Blair, Muncy; 5. Jeremy Hanford, Warrior Run.

CAN’T MISS MATCH

OF THE WEEK

Powerade Tournament,

Friday and Saturday

(Canon-McMillan H.S.)

Montoursville will make its second consecutive trip to one of the toughest tournaments in the state next weekend, and it may be the best chance all year to see two-time state champion Gavin Hoffman tested. Hoffman, the top-ranked 195-pounder in the country, could see No. 3-ranked Anthony Walters of Bishop McCort, who Hoffman defeated in the state final last year. He could also see No. 8-ranked Ryan Reyes of Clovis West (Calif.) and No. 16 Austin Cooley of Wyoming Seminary. The tournament will be broadcast on FloWrestling.

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

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