Workouts have more than paid off for Lewisburg’s Snyder

FRANK DIMON/For the Sun-Gazette Lewisburg coach Jim Snyder, center left, and his son Dakota, center right, talk during the 2017 South Sectional tournament at Southern Columbia High School.

The first time Jim Snyder set up his son, Dakotah, to work out with former two-time state champion Russ Hughes, Dakotah couldn’t have been more excited.

Dakotah was in fifth grade, his eyes were wide as he stepped on the mat before the District 4 tournament began with a former Penn State All-American who was also Benton’s coach. Forty minutes later, there was no smile to be had.

Jim Snyder had encouraged Hughes to be tough on Dakotah, to try and toughen him up a little bit, and also to show him some different techniques he could use.

“I didn’t know what to expect. I thought he’s going to teach me some things out there,” Dakotah said. “I didn’t know I was going to die. People were watching us and people are enjoying it, and I’m getting the crap kicked out of me.”

Both Snyders can recall those morning workouts at both districts and regionals with Hughes with laughs and jokes now — Jim more so than Dakotah. Jim is Dakotah’s head coach at Lewisburg and Dakotah is the No. 2 seed at today’s District 4 Class AA tournament at Williamsport High School.

Those workouts — or more aptly, beatings — with Hughes became a yearly tradition as Dakotah grew through the elementary and junior high ranks. Jim would sit in a cozy padded chair on the sideline enjoying the carnage with anybody else who cared to sit and watch the scrap unfold. Fans who arrived early would sit with arms crossed and smiles as wide as the Magic Dome as Hughes taught lesson after lesson about wrestling tough through any position, and occasionally breaking down different techniques.

It wasn’t a punishment Jim was handing down to his son. It was a lesson. A tough lesson. But a lesson nonetheless.

“I would tell him in the morning, ‘wear your practice gear because Uncle Russ is here and it’s practice time,'” Jim said through his fits of laughing. “I wanted him to know that he thought it was rough with me and tough with me, well that’s our thing. Russ can make him tougher.”

“I definitely think it made me mentally tougher,” Dakotah said. “(Mike) Rhone and all the Benton guys would be there laughing. It was the worst 45 minutes ever. When I saw people coming out from weigh-ins, it was like Christmas because that would mean we were done. It was horrible. But I definitely tweaked some things on me feet, and he taught me some things. But I just remember it being horrible.”

There were times when Dakotah eventually tried to avoid the workouts. He tried to sleep in one morning and come up to the tournament later in the day with his mom, but that didn’t work. He “forgot” to bring his workout clothes one year, but that didn’t deter Hughes from giving him a workout in his jeans and sneakers.

The work and years of growth have paid their dividends, though. Dakotah enters the district tournament with a 24-5 record. He’s coming off his first sectional championship last week, and he’s wrestling as well as he ever has in his three years of varsity competition.

It all adds up to a wrestler carrying a ton of confidence into the district tournament. He understands the difficult nature of the tournament, especially in a deep 220-pound weight class, but he feels he’s capable of wrestling well enough to get through the tournament and advance to his second regional tournament.

“Winning sectionals last week set me up great this week in the bracket,” Dakotah said. “It made me realize I can compete with these guys.”

Dakotah is actually wrestling up a weight class from where he was in the regular season. It was a decision he and his dad made in part because they felt his style of wrestling a little better.

Even though he would be giving up size throughout the postseason, he would be able to be in matches with a little slower pace, as opposed to the quicker, more athletic 195-pounders he would see.

Also, it didn’t hurt that 220 didn’t have Montoursville’s Gavin Hoffman to worry about. With the two-time defending state champion reigning supreme over the 195-pound weight class, it likely whittles down the opportunity to advance to the state tournament to just three spots instead of four.

At 220, the race is a little more wide open. Muncy’s Hunter Poust and Wyalusing’s Mike Wilcox are both returning state qualifiers, but they’re on the top half of the bracket. Dakota will have to deal with Towanda regional qualifier Seth Johnson in the quarterfinals tonight, likely, but an unproven sophomore in Northeast Bradford’s Dawson Brown, or an upstart junior in Southern Columbia’s Sean Sprague could wait in the semifinals should Dakotah advance that far.

“Guys at 195 were just a little quicker than I am,” Dakotah said. “At 220, my strength allows me to compete with those guys. I just have to be a little smarter with giving up the weight.”

Dakotah has worked hard to improve his strength. It was the first thing he noticed he needed to improve on following a freshman season where he went 16-10 and didn’t get out of the South Sectional tournament wrestling at 195 pounds.

An avid football player as well, he’s devoted himself to getting stronger in the weight room, which he has. It’s why he’s confident at 220 despite giving up the weight. He knows from a technical standpoint he’s more than capable of wrestling at this level. He was a win away from qualifying for the state tournament a year ago and already has 72 career wins.

“Going out there as a freshman, I thought I would do as well as I usually did in elementary and junior high, but you’re wrestling some studs that are really strong,” Dakotah said. “Even a one-year wrestling football player will kill you because they’re so much stronger. So I had to get stronger.”

Improvement in the family hasn’t been limited to Dakotah, though. Each year Jim said he’s becoming a better coach for his son. He’s learned over time that he can’t be involved with everything Dakotah is doing in the practice room. He’s learned over the course of three years sometimes it’s better to let assistant coaches Mike “Doc” Brown and Justin Michaels handle different drills or technique work.

It was a lesson he learned from Brown after watching him coach his own son, Nathaniel, to a state championship at Lewisburg. He watched Brown become less hands on with his own son over his four years on the varsity team and he’s tried to emulate that philosophy.

“The toughest part is not being tougher on him than anyone else in the room,” Jim said. “You have to step back and let coach Michaels or Doc taker over. I’ve done much better with that every year. But his freshman year and even last year, sometimes I went out of bounds. You feel terrible after and we talk about it. But I’ve been better and hopefully we don’t reach that level again.”

But regardless of how Jim and Dakotah have gotten here — through the beatings offered by Russ Hughes, or the rough days in the room — they’ve never wavered on being father and son. They share a prayer prior to every dual meet, and every bout ends with a prideful handshake from father to son.