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Mitch Rupert on wrestling: Tough practices are helping Lehman

There are days when Miah Lehman gets beat up in practice. The sheer mention of working out with Canton teammate Hayden Ward elicits an audible groan from her and two family members seated around a small circular table.

Those days are tough for the junior. They’ll end in tears of frustration. There will be tears which Warriors coach Lyle Wesneski notices, causing him to pull Lehman from practice to regroup. But there’s something Wesneski notices about those days which tells him everything he needs to know about Lehman: she always finds her way back on the mat.

For just a few minutes she’ll step off to the side and calm herself, maybe do some jumping jacks just to make sure she’s still moving. In the moment, it’s difficult a difficult moment. In the broader picture of a season and of a career, both Lehman and Wesneski know it’s those days which are going to make Lehman a better wrestler.

“I always say, once you start wrestling girls that are your size, you’re going to be just fine,” Wesneski said. “She gets pounded, but she scraps. And that’s all I can ask.”

It’s not easy being the only girl on a varsity wrestling team. Truth be told, Lehman is still working toward total acceptance. But she admits this is the first time she’s truly felt like part of her team.

It’s been an exciting year for her. She won matches Tuesday against Towanda and Thursday against Troy which helped Canton clinch its first Northern Tier League championship since 2005, when Lehman was just 2-years-old. But at times, it’s still a little lonely. In all her trips to tournaments this year with the Warriors, she’s seen only a handful of other girls competing.

So why deal with all the negative of the sport? Why come back day after day knowing there’s a good chance there’s a butt-kicking waiting for you?

“I like it too much,” Lehman says with a smile.

She’s liked wrestling since she can remember. Tagging along to practice while her dad, Mike, coached her cousin Sawyer Wooster — himself a former district qualifier at Canton — she’s been in the mat room as long as she can remember. It immediately struck her as something she wanted to do, so she began to practice as well.

As a kid, she won the first tournament she ever competed in. Her sister, Chelsea, sitting to Miah’s right, points out she made a boy cry in the process. And that sly smile again creeps across Miah’s face. Not much has changed in the 10 or 11 years since then. She still tries to make teammates cry in practice if she can, even if she is the one who may end up in tears.

But make no mistake about Lehman. She’s not a side-show. She’s not here just to fill a weight class Canton has nobody else for. She’s in the lineup because she can wrestle.

Her two wins this week pushed her record to 7-11. It’s just one fewer win than she earned all last season as a starter for the Warriors. But last year’s 8-16 records included four forfeits. There are only two forfeits on her resume this season.

Around Christmas, she picked up a pair of falls in the same week. This week, her fall against Towanda sparked the Warriors, and her 6-3 decision against Troy helped Canton clinch the NTL title.

Wrestling at her natural weight class of 126 pounds this week has been a big help to producing positive results. This week was the first time she’s competed in a dual meet at 126. Other times, Wesneski has had her bump all the way up to 138 to suit the team’s needs. But she showcased her ability and her own savvy in picking up wins this week.

Particularly, after scoring the first takedown against Towanda’s Garret Chapman, she decided to throw in legs while riding on top. It’s something she had never done in competition before. It’s something she hasn’t done in practice either. But in the moment where she was in control of the bout with Canton leading just 8-6, she decided to give it a shot. Why not? She watches the rest of her teammates do it regularly.

So she got both boots between Chapman’s legs and used them to extend the lanky Towanda sophomore. And with him stretched out, Lehman began wrenching hard on Chapman’s shoulder with a power-half. It didn’t turn into back points in the first period, but after wrenching and wrenching in the second period, she finally turned Chapman for three points.

Lehman just doesn’t have the strength her male opponents or teammates have, which makes her technique all the more important. So even when she rode legs for the first time in her life Tuesday night, she did it perfectly, according to Wesneski.

“She knows she can’t get out of position. She can’t get lazy with her hips. She has to stay tough,” Wesneski said. “I think she wore him out and then she was able to turn him. That’s a testament to her always going hard.”

“I was wrestling Bailey Ferguson in practice and I was using my legs and he was like, ‘have you been working out with your legs or something?'” Lehman said. “He couldn’t take me down. That’s the strongest part of my body, so I decided to try it and it worked out pretty well. And then against the Troy kid, I heard coach yell, ‘get the boots in’ and I was like, really? But it worked.”

It sure did work. And it gave Lehman an opportunity to really have a hand in some historical wins for Canton as they won their first league title in 15 years. They were the kind of wins to really help her feel like she’s part of the team.

Her performance has shown her teammates she can be an asset. It’s why as she cranked on that power-half against Towanda, not a Warrior wrestler was in their seat on the bench. Instead they got to their feet shouting encouragement or any small piece of advice they could think of. Lehman hears that support when she’s on the mat. It fills her with confidence to get the job done.

Sure, she knows there are going to be days when she’s just out-gunned. When Wesneski tells her to just do the best she can, she knows she’s going to be fighting an uphill battle. But Wesneski keeps her in the lineup because of her willingness to always come back after even the roughest of days. He can trust she’s going to fight with every fiber of her being.

It’s that tenacity which Lehman is hoping can lead her to her goal this season of reaching the District 4 tournament. She would be only the second girl ever to qualify for districts, joining Benton’s Vayle-Rae Baker in 2016, when she finished sixth at 106 pounds.

But Lehman hopes this is all just a springboard toward eventually wrestling in college. She’s done well at tournaments featuring all girls, including winning the Shogun in New York last weekend, which earned her a samurai sword as a first-place trophy. She’d be the next in a line of District 4 alums to wrestle in college.

Baker is currently competing for Augsburg University in Minnesota. Hughesville’s Marissa Gregoire wrestles at Oklahoma City College. Lehman, who also plays volleyball and softball, always assumed softball would be her ticket to college. Now her tune has changed a bit.

“It’s pretty exciting to think about,” Lehman said. “I always thought I would be out of high school and already in college before there’d be women’s wrestling in college. But coach’s wife sent me a video of the girl who was the first to be accepted on Lock Haven’s women’s team, and then this year I’m seeing more and more and I’d like to do that.”

WRESTLER OF THE WEEK

Branden Wentzel, Montoursville (106 pounds)

There haven’t been many tests which have thrown the freshman for a loop this year. He opened the season with a championship at the Tom Best Memorial Top Hat, including posting major decision wins over state-ranked Cael Nasdeo and Gino Serafini. He added two more dominant wins over state-ranked wrestlers in the last week and moved up to No. 3 in the state rankings in the process. He helped Montoursville win the Clearfield Duals championship by going 5-0, including a first-period fall over 15th-ranked Chase Burke of Benton. He added a 10-2 major decision over eighth-ranked Kaden Milheim of Warrior Run on Tuesday night. His only losses this year have come to AAA No. 2 Jacob Van Dee of Erie Cathedral Prep, AAA No. 3 Briar Priest of Hempfield, and Ohio’s No. 1-ranked Pacey Najdusak. His 22 wins are second-most on the team this year and he’s posted an 8-3 record against state-ranked wrestlers.

CAN’T-MISS

MATCH OF THE WEEK

Selinsgrove at Williamsport, Wednesday, 7 p.m.

It has been quite the tumultuous season for Williamsport. It started when returning state qualifier Braden Bower was lost for the season after shoulder surgery. It continued with injuries to Cael Nasdeo, Carter Weaver, Carter Dawson, Porter Dawson and Dade Splain, among others. But despite all that, the Millionaires have still been quite successful. Riley Bower is one of the Top 10-ranked 138-pounders in AAA. Nasdeo continues to be listed among the best 106-pounders in the state. Charles Crews has had an eye-opening season since moving to heavyweight. And the Millionaires are 6-1 with their only loss coming to Central Mountain. Now they’ll get a shot at another one-loss team whose only loss was also to Central Mountain.

MITCH RUPERT’S WRESTLING RANKINGS

106 pounds

1. Branden Wentzel, Montoursville

2. Gino Serafini, Central Mountain

3. Cade Wirnsberger, Meadowbrook Christian

4. Cael Nasdeo, Williamsport

5. Bobby Gardner, South Williamsport

113 pounds

1. Scott Johnson, Muncy

2. Derek Keen, Central Mountain

3. Kaden Majcher, Warrior Run

4. Bailey Ferguson, Canton

5. Cole Johnson, Montoursville

120 pounds

1. Carter Weaver, Williamsport

2. Kaiden Wagner, Lewisburg

3. Braylen Corter, Central Mountain

4. Caiden Puderbach, Hughesville

5. Liam Goodrich, Jersey Shore

126 pounds

1. Jacob Blair, Muncy

2. Taylor Weaver, Central Mountain

3. Broc Lutz, Montoursville

4. Gabe Andrus, Jersey Shore

5. Callahan Johnson, Meadowbrook Christian

132 pounds

1. Bryce Vollman, Muncy

2. Noah Hunt, Warrior Run

3. Hayden Ward, Canton

4. Gavin Sheriff, Lewisburg

5. Zach Miller, Central Mountain

138 pounds

1. Riley Bower, Williamsport

2. Luke Gorg, Hughesville

3. Kyler Crawford, Milton

4. Logan Bartlett, Lewisburg

5. James Batkowski, Montoursville

145 pounds

1. Nate Higley, Sullivan County

2. Roman Morrone, Williamsport

3. Mario Barberio, Muncy

4. Landon Lorson, South Williamsport

5. Riley Parker, Canton

152 pounds

1. Lane Porter, Central Mountain

2. Devon Deem, Montgomery

3. Christian Good, Muncy

4. Colton Ammerman, Sullivan County

5. Owen Mahon, Williamsport

160 pounds

1. Isaac Cory, Montoursville

2. Kaide Drick, Montgomery

3. Hayden Packer, Jersey Shore

4. Kohen Lehman, North Penn-Liberty

5. Sebastian Robinson, Williamsport

170 pounds

1. Cael Crebs, Montoursville

2. Ethan Gush, Muncy

3. Timmy Ward, Canton

4. Lane Lusk, South Williamsport

5. Sam Crawford, Warrior Run

182 pounds

1. Dylan Bennett, Montoursville

2. Garrett Storch, Canton

3. Ryan Kershner, Jersey Shore

4. Hoyt Bower, Warrior Run

5. Sam Hostrander, South Williamsport

195 pounds

1. Nathan Rauch, Milton

2. Nik Miller, Central Mountain

3. Derek Atherton-Ely, Canton

4. Caleb Moser, Montoursville

5. Michael Sipps, Williamson

220 pounds

1. Cameron Wood, Montoursville

2. Cael Hembury, Muncy

3. Trevor Williams, Canton

4. Gage Sutliff, Central Mountain

5. Caleb Burkhart, Hughesville

285 pounds

1. Nevin Rauch, Milton

2. Charles Crews, Williamsport

3. Gunner Treibley, Meadowbrook Christian

4. Cyrus McCarl, Central Mountain

5. Logyn Choplosky, North Penn-Liberty

Pound-for-pound

Top 10

1. Cameron Wood, Montoursville

2. Dylan Bennett, Montoursville

3. Riley Bower, Williamsport

4. Nate Higley, Sullivan County

5. Branden Wentzel, Montoursville

6. Jacob Blair, Muncy

7. Scott Johnson, Muncy

8. Cael Crebs, Montoursville

9. Nevin Rauch, Milton

10. Luke Gorg, Hughesville

Top 5 Teams

1. Montoursville

2. Central Mountain

3. Muncy

4. Canton

5. Williamsport

Mitch Rupert can be reached at 570-326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert.

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