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Packer’s mindset has helped him win this year

For Hadyn Packer, wrestling is a mind game. The Jersey Shore freshman knows he’s capable of winning any match he’s in. But there are still moments of doubt.

Like last weekend, knowing he was facing Benton’s Nolan Lear in the quarterfinals of the District 4 Class AA tournament, Packer couldn’t help but doubt himself a little. He knew of Lear’s pedigree as a returning state qualifier and a Top-5 ranked 160-pounder who carried an undefeated record into their matchup.

Packer is working on keeping those kinds of thoughts out of his mind. Last week, it was a learning experience. He knows those records don’t mean anything, and that’s the kind of mindset he’ll try to bring into the Northeast Regional tournament this weekend at Williamsport.

“I’d say this sport is a lot more mental than physical,” Packer said last weekend. “If you have the right mindset, you can be anyone.”

Packer’s mindset has helped him beat most of the wrestlers who have lined up across from him on the mat this season despite being one of the younger wrestlers competing at 160 pounds. He still remembers that first day of the season walking into the Magic Dome for the Tom Best Memorial Top Hat wondering how he was going to be able to hold up in a weight class which features a majority of upperclassmen.

But he’s fared quite well. Packer enters regionals this weekend with 33 wins, the second-most among the eight regional qualifiers, behind only the 36 by Montoursville’s Isaac Cory.

He is coming off a fifth-place finish at the district tournament, turning in a dominant 9-0 win over Line Mountain’s Riley Heim in the fifth-place match to secure his spot at regionals.

“My goal was making it to regionals. One more step. And I got that,” Packer said. “I was nervous for that match knowing that if I lost, I didn’t make it. So I left it all out there.”

Packer’s two losses at the district tournament were to Lear and Cory, the eventual second and third-place finishers. He’ll have his hands full in this weekend’s quarterfinal round when he opens the tournament against Southern Columbia’s Gavin Garcia, a returning state fourth-place finisher who is ranked fourth in the state.

But even if Packer were to lose that opening match, he’s proven to himself he can recover from it. Two weeks ago at the North Section tournament, he was the top seed but was upset in the quarterfinals by Towanda’s Bryant Green, who was returning from a season-long injury which left him with minimal seeding points. Packer battled all the way back to finish third.

Last week he went 3-0 in elimination matches, twice winning by fall after losing to Lear, and then beating Heim with a major decision.

“I think I come ready to wrestle,” Packer said. “It’s a mind game. And if you don’t care who you’re wrestling, then you’re going to do better than if you’re worrying about that.”

Packer’s season has been one long run through a gauntlet of tough opponents. Of the nine wrestlers who have accounted for his 10 losses, all nine are still wrestling. Waverly, New York’s Ethan Stotler is in the state tournament, the other eight have qualified for regionals in Pennsylvania.

Having competed against that level of competition leaves Packer in a pretty sound mindset going into every match. Very rarely have doubts crept into his mind like they did against Lear last week. But of the best wrestlers he’s faced this season, Lear may very well be at the top of the list.

“I feel fine about it now,” Packer said. “Even when I get a id that I know is good and has experience at the high school level, I know I can compete.”

Packer can compete because he looks like he’s chiseled from stone. It’s easy to see his strength when he wrestles. It’s easy to see his athleticism. It’s that combination which allows him to believe he can compete.

And when he looks ahead to this week, he knows he’s going to have to improve only one place from last week to qualify for the state tournament. It’s a battle Packer is ready for and one he’s looking forward to.

“I’m so excited. I was so happy to win that (fifth-place) match and know I have another week of wrestling,” Packer said. “It’s more pressure now, and some people do better under pressure. I feel like I can thrive under the pressure.”

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