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Muncy’s Blair back atop D4 podium

Jacob Blair stepped off the awards podium inside Williamsport High School’s Magic Dome on Saturday with his hand on the back of Mifflinburg’s Gabe Gramly. Both wrestlers smiled. Both said there was no ill will after a physical and contentious matchup in the 126-pound final of the District 4 Class AA wrestling tournament.

“It was a really fun scrap,” Blair said a few minutes later.

Blair and Gramly have a history which goes back two years, the last time Blair competed in the postseason. Blair won a pair of matchups on his way to a third-place finish at the 2018 District 4 tournament. So there was no animosity between the two in their physical battle Saturday night. It was all business.

Gramly was looking for his first district title. Blair was looking for his first in three seasons. Blair won, posting a 4-1 decision in the final. The victory signified the end of a long road traveled between district titles for the Muncy senior. In between was a missed weight at the 2018 Northeast Regional tournament which knocked him from the postseason, and knee surgery last December which stole his entire season.

After climbing down from the podium and sharing his pleasantries with Gramly, Blair could finally smile. His second district title was well-earned, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It really is satisfying,” Blair said. “My parents always tell me everything happens for a reason. And the adversity I’ve been through the last two years have taught me not to take anything for granted. Situations like this where my knee wasn’t feeling good going into the third period, I’m not going to let it stop me. I was going to work hard through that third period and have it come out the way I wanted it to come out.”

This whole season has been a perseverance story for Blair. At one point of his sophomore season, he was the top-ranked 106-pounder in the state. He was a big reason Muncy finished fourth at the PIAA Team Wrestling Championships, becoming the first Lycoming County school to place in the state dual-meet tournament.

Last year he was again expecting to be a key cog in a team which had its visions on returning to Hershey before the knee injury sidelined him again. And for the past two-plus months, Blair has wrestled like he has something to prove to everybody who is in the gym when he competes.

Saturday night against Gramly was just the latest chapter of his return story. His pace offensively has become relentless as he tries to make up for lost time and score all the points he missed out on scoring last year. Against a wrestler like Gramly’s, whose defense is on par with the 1985 Chicago Bears, it can be a frustrating venture for Blair to fire off shot after shot have it result it nothing more than an entertaining level of scoreless wrestling. But fire off he did, waiting for an opening to score a decisive two points.

“To be honest, I don’t really have a gameplan. My gameplan is pretty much the same every match: firing off shots and moving my feet,” Blair said. “If I’m moving, it’s hard for them to take me down.”

Gramly made it hard for Blair to get that takedown Saturday night. The two were locked in a 1-1 bout late in the third period when Gramly was hit for a technical violation for accidentally poking Blair in the eye for the second time in about 15 seconds of match time. That violation gave Blair a 2-1 edge and boos from the crowd rained down.

In that moment, Blair turned toward coach Royce Eyer and assistant coach Brian Vollman and said he was getting a takedown to make that penalty point moot. Blair made good on his word, catching Gramly trying a desperation headlock in the final 15 seconds and coming out on top for the win.

It was Blair’s first district title since he beat Line Mountain’s Matty Coller in the 106-pound final as a freshman in 2017. In between the two titles were 74 victories and a whole lot of stories to tell.

“Gabe did a really nice job out there with his defense,” Blair said. “There were a bunch of shots I was in on and I thought I had him and he got out somehow.”

Blair is dealing with the usual bumps and bruises associated with this time of year. There’s a significant brace on his right knee. But he’s found energy in making his final run through the postseason for the Indians.

He reached 100-career wins earlier this season despite wrestling only three seasons for Muncy. He enters this week’s Class AA Northeast Regional tournament with a 110-12 career record. Of the 17 wrestlers in Muncy history with at least 100 career wins, his winning percentage of .901 is bested only by former state champion Zach Strickland’s .904 mark (122-13).

Blair’s place in school history is cemented. But he’d like one more state medal to go with the eighth-place one he earned three years ago. But he’s also invested in his teammates and doing his best to cheer them on without wearing himself out before he steps on the mat.

But he’s shown all season a lack of energy isn’t his problem. In fact, it might be one of his greatest assets. In order to beat Blair, it’s going to take an extraordinary effort to match his energy and match his tenacity. And the physicality? Yeah, he’s plenty good with that, too.

“This does energize you,” Blair said. “I’m walking out of here with my second district title, but I’m going to keep practicing to get that regional title, and then go sellout at states.”

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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