Wood’s senior performance earned him Wrestler of the Year

Before Matt Yonkin placed the gold medal around Cameron Wood’s neck, the senior 220-pounder looked at Montoursville’s coach and expressed his surprise. How could someone who started his career as a .500 wrestler as a freshman reach the point to where he was a state champion?

The two smiled as the posed for a photo before Wood climbed to the No. 1 spot on the Giant Center’s podium as the PIAA Class AA 220-pound champion. Wood’s route to being a state champion may not have been conventional, but it is paved in the proverbial blood, sweat and tears.

As a freshman 182-pounder, he was stuck in the lineup between eventual state sixth-place finisher Kyle Bennett and state champion Gavin Hoffman. It was a season of butt-kickings in the practice room with occasional butt-kickings on the mat.

Wood finished that season with an 18-18 record. He lost just 20 more times over the next three seasons, qualified for the state tournament three times, medaled twice, and finished with a win in his final match, letting out a ferocious roar as he knelt on the Giant Center mat after winning a state championship.

For his performance during the 2019-2020 wrestling season, Wood has been named the Sun-Gazette’s Wrestler of the Year.

“I remember going up to Towanda my freshman year,” Wood said. “I went 0-5 and I got pinned five times. I came home and said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to do this anymore. I suck.’ But I stuck with it and went to 220 and had three pretty good years. But I really never thought my freshman year I’d be a state champ.”

In reality, Wood wasn’t as bad as he thought as a freshman at the Flynn Propane Duals. Yes, he did go 0-5. But only three of the losses were by fall. Two were by major decision.

But after that initial trip, Wood lost only once more again in Towanda, and that was his sophomore year, 3-2 to state qualifier Cole Fuller of Western Wayne. He recorded 14 wins at Towanda over the final three years of his career, 13 of which were by fall.

Wood took that first season as a learning opportunity. While he was a little outmatched wrestling at 182 pounds against largely upper classmen, he also knew he needed to be a better wrestler who was stronger. So he lived in the weight room and came back as a sophomore who was better prepared to handle life near heavyweight.

“It’s been hard work and commitment,” Yonkin said. “He’s been a grinder. Over the years we’ve watched him grow. He has the frame, he has the athleticism and strength to do this stuff.”

The hard work and commitment was required just to survive in the practice room on a daily basis. He was the workout partner for Hoffman as he won the last of his three consecutive state championships. Wood had to raise the level of his game in order to help Hoffman get better and, in turn, it made him better.

He won the Top Hat tournament as a sophomore before eventually qualifying for the state tournament. He won a regional title as a junior before finishing fourth in the state, losing only to the eventual runner-up and third-place finisher. And this year, he became the stabilizing force in a lineup full of talent.

He was the most consistent performer for a Montoursville team which wrestled a month without eventual state finalist Dylan Bennett. He went back to Towanda for one final time and went 5-0 with five falls and was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler as the Warriors won the championship.

Between Dec. 28 and the final day of the season, Wood lost just one time. He won 37 times in between and finished with 144 career victories, sixth-most in school history.

At the state tournament he beat the wrestlers who finished second (Kolby Flank), fourth (Nathan Taylor) and seventh (Cory Johnston). And his first-round opponent, Evan Miller of Reynolds, lost by one point in the blood round.

Wood’s workmanlike season, which included 32 falls in 47 wins, finished in workmanlike fashion. He beat Johnston with a dominant 4-0 win by scoring the first takedown and being a beast on top. He beat Taylor in the semifinals with a fall when he came out on top in a scramble with a deep half nelson. And he scored the decisive takedown in the second period to beat Flank in the state final.

His state tournament run was a microcosm of who Wood has become as a wrestler. He’s dangerous at all times while remaining in strong position to score the points necessary to win. And it led to him becoming the ninth state champion in school history.

“He’s come a long way,” Yonkin said. “When I gave him his medal, I said, ‘You’re a state champion now, and nobody can take that away from you.”

Mitch Rupert covers wrestling for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 570-326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert.