Tough stretch led Defenders’ Hunt to postseason wins

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Warrior Run’s Noah Hunt, rear, wrestles against Montoursville’s Wyatt Lutz in the 113-pound final of the District 4 Central Sectional tournament.

Noah Hunt has been asking the Warrior Run coaching staff for a workout partner more his size this postseason. The 113-pound returning state qualifier has been rolling around, for the most part, with opponents who are bigger than him.

Leading into last week’s District 4 tournament, the sophomore spent two days working out with Dylan Kolenda, the Defenders’ starter at 132 pounds. After that second practice, Hunt went to head coach Jeremy Betz and assistant coach Jason Guffey and asked if they could find someone more his size because he was getting worn out.

The next day, he had a lighter workout partner. It just happened to be 126-pound returning state placewinner Jeremy Hanford.

“I don’t know if that was really what he wanted,” Betz said with a smile.

These workouts with heavier teammates are nothing compared to the grind Hunt experienced in the middle of the season. Betz and Guffey could see during practice last week Hunt was embracing the grind and knew he’d be OK.

Hunt turned those workouts into his second consecutive impressive postseason performance. He picked up two more impressive wins on his way to a fourth-place finish at 113 pounds last week and wrestles in his second consecutive regional tournament this weekend at Williamsport.

It’s been a long road for Hunt to reach this point. One which has had twist and turns a Hollywood car chase scene would be envious of. There were moments when Betz wasn’t entirely sure how Hunt was handling the ups and downs. But he’s now just two victories away from a second trip in a row to the PIAA tournament, and he’s as confident in himself as ever.

“All that got me a lot more prepared for these tournaments,” Hunt said Saturday. “It was tough to handle at the time. Losing put me down. But I was trying to re-focus and get prepared.”

Hunt’s season started off glowingly. He wrestled just like the returning state qualifier he was. He had three bonus-point wins on his way to the tournament championship at the Darren Klingerman Invitational at Bloomsburg to open the season.

But as he closed out his run at the King of the Mountain the following week, everything kind of fell apart. The KOM started of run of eight losses in 11 bouts. At one point, he was just 9-8 and riding a four-match losing streak.

After getting beat up pretty handily by Southern Columbia’s Patrick Edmondson during a dual meet in early January, Betz was asked if Hunt was OK mentally after the struggles. Betz’s most honest answer was he didn’t know.

Hunt isn’t one to show a ton of emotion, win or lose, so it was tough to gauge just where he was. But it definitely a crossroads in his season. It was a moment where Hunt could either have been crushed by the weight of tough losses, or rise above the toughest stretch of his career and be better for it.

It’s safe to say he chose the latter. He’s gone 13-4 since that loss to Edmondson with his four losses coming to Edmondson, No. 2-ranked Wyatt Lutz of Montoursville, and state-ranked Darren Schum in the third-place match of last weekend’s district tournament.

“Confidence is a dangerous thing,” Betz said. “When you get a wrestler who starts to wrestle with confidence in their ability to score points, it’s fun to watch. Noah is starting to get that confidence. He’s starting to open up and he’s starting to tighten up in a few positions where he was getting in, but not finishing and not scoring. He’s wrestled well, but we’ve got one more solid week to put in before we get to states.”

He was a completely different wrestler in the Central Sectional semifinal when he defeated Muncy’s Mario Barberio than he was during that 3-8 stretch around the turn of the New Year. His defense was on point, shutting down the best of Barberio’s offense even when the Muncy sophomore got in on his best shots.

Hunt’s finishes on his own shots were crisp and clean. His movements were fluid and full of conviction. That carried over to the District 4 tournament where he opened with an impressive win over Midd-West’s Aidan Steininger and again defeated Barberio in the consolation semifinals to guarantee his spot at regionals.

Losing to Schum in the third-place match was disappointing and a little frustrating for Hunt, but he said he was happy he was able to put together another strong tournament.

He’ll be the seventh seed at the Northeast Regional with a first-round matchup with Berwick’s Nick Yule, a wrestler he beat in December, 12-4, to win the DKI title.

“He seems to be peaking at the right time,” Betz said. “We certainly like what we’re seeing and where he’s at now. I can’t say that I saw him better than this last year. He’s bigger, stronger and a little bit quicker this year.”

An examination of his 3-8 stretch reveals a gauntlet of matchups. His two losses at the King of the Mountain came to New Jersey state qualifier Cullen Day and Bald Eagle Area regional qualifier Garret Giedroc. His two losses at the Trojan Wars were to Northeastern state qualifier Cole Wilson and Cambridge Springs freshman Ayden Miller, who recently qualified for his own regional tournament.

Then there was a three-match stretch of a dual meets where he saw matchups with Benton’s seventh-ranked Gable Strickland, Lutz and Edmondson. It was a brutal stretch of the schedule which just so happened to hit him all at once.

“We had talked to him several times through that stretch and said trust the process, trust how we’re training you, and good things will happen,” Betz said. “He was really close in that stretch to a couple key wins and just missed them. I think he had the confidence he could score the points, it was just a matter of cutting the corner to those wins.”

At one point following that rough stretch, Hunt was a minus-8 in net takedowns for the season according to Betz. Since then, he’s improved that number to plus-30. That was all Betz needed to see to know Hunt was going to be OK.

The last two weeks have proven he is more than OK.