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Milton grad Stokes ready for one last run at NCAAs

LEWIBSURG — Walking off the mat with a scrape across his cheek and dried blood on his lips, Bucknell senior Brandon Stokes still could crack a smile talking about his experiences wrestling for the blue and orange wrestling team.

Stokes just finished wrestling two of the best wrestlers in his conference, against Lehigh ninth-ranked heavyweight Jordan Wood on Thursday, and two days later Bobby Heald of Army. Although they both ended in losses (12-0 to Wood, 4-1 to Heald), Stokes could not care less about the outcome, it is the memories of suiting up for his teammates that mean more for him over his four years of collegiate wrestling.

“I would not trade anything in the world for the experience of these last four years,” Stokes said.

Stokes won 108 matches for Milton High School placed fifth in his senior year at the PIAA state tournament at 170 pounds before coming to Bucknell in 2016. He wrestled primarily 165 and 174 pounds in his freshman campaign before making the jump up five weight classes over the last three years. Weighing closer to 200 pounds and bumping up to a weight with a max limit of 285 pounds sure provided Stokes with its disadvantages, but he did what everyone does for the sport of wrestling — making sacrifices for the benefit of the team.

“Ultimately it’s being there for the team. I would sacrifice anything to be able to wrestle with the group of guys that I’ve wrestled with again,” the Milton product said.

He has compiled a 6-10 record in his final season and an overall record of 30-49 for Bucknell as the primary heavyweight, which began after the Christmas break in the 2017-18 season.

“When coach (Dan Wirnsberger) came to me about moving up to heavyweight, I was kind of confused, but kind of excited at the same time becuase I couldn’t make my way into the starting lineup like I was expecting to because we had Nick Stephani at 174, Garrett Hoffman at 184 and Tom Sleigh at 197,” Stokes said.

Stephani was already in his sophomore campaign after a PIAA runner-up finish in high school. Stokes and Hoffman, a Montoursville grad, both arrived on campus a year later with Hoffman getting the nod after a scholastic career where he ranked 20th in the nation as a senior and was a three-time state medalist. Hoffman made an appearance at the NCAA tournament that year.

Drew Phipps also arrived in 2016 with a PIAA runner-up finish and locked up the backup 197-pound spot behind Sleigh. So the only thing Stokes could do was keep going up.

“Now, three years later, being able to wrestle in two EIWA conference tournaments and wrestling everywhere with the team, it’s been a very humbling experience,” Stokes said.

Stokes could not express enough his gratitude for the opportunity to continue to do what he loved to do as a part of the Bucknell wrestling team. He touched on the lasting friendships, memories and life lessons he had learned along the way, saying his time will always be near and dear to his heart after being presented his commorative singlet after the senior day-dual against Army on Sunday afternoon.

“Wrestling with these guys are the best group of guys someone can ask for. Phipps has been my rooomate all four years. We are complete opposites, he’s more reseerved and I’m the one jumping around on the bench and congratulating the guys and getting riled up. He’s taught me a lot about myself,” Stokes said rambling off the names of his senior class. “Each guy brings a different level of experiences and skill-sets that you can pick and choose from to become a better person. Coach Wirnsberger, he won’t only make you a better wrestler, he will make you a better person through all avenues of life. He tries to make you the best person you can become.”

With just the EIWA conference championships the last guaranteed collegiate event for Stokes, he is taking everything he has learned since he started in elementary wrestling through the course of his Bucknell career, and is ready for his one last shot at making an NCAA tournament.

“Being able to wrestle and compete with these guys like Wood and a three-time olympian Ben Provisor in the practice room, it gives me a good measuring stick to see where I’m at right before the conference tournament and make the adjustments for that final run and see where I can go in my senior year,” Stokes said.

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