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Moving up to 285 was right decision for Hughesville senior Burkhart

Caleb Burkhart had a decision to make this summer. Either trim down to make 215 pounds for the wrestling season, or bulk up to go 285. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but after winning the 285-pound title at the Central Sectional on Saturday, it’s clear Burkhart made the right decision.

The Hughesville senior found his niche late last season when he made the full-time move to 285 pounds after spending much of the year at 215. It led to his first Central Section title.

Burkhart made the decision during the summer to stick with 285 pounds, and he was happy with his performance during summer tournaments. It’s clear he’s found a home.

“I really think I made the right decision, and I think my coaches think that too,” Burkhart said. “I’ve gone to a lot of tournaments at 285 and haven’t really had a negative record. So I’ve been wrestling good kids and competing with them. I just feel real good overall. I feel strong.”

In his season and a half wrestling at heavyweight, Burkhart is 31-5, good for a 86.8 winning percentage. In his career wrestling at 220 pounds, he’s 37-17 for a 68.5 winning percentage. The style has fit Burkhart better.

He’s flexible — thus his nickname Noodle — and athletic, so what he gives up in lack of size, he makes up for in other areas. His three losses this year have come to Selinsgrove state champ Nate Schon, Montoursville state runner-up Dylan Bennett, and Mifflinburg state qualifier Emmanuel Ulrich.

If you look at the list of wrestlers to go a full six minutes with Schon this season, it’s a list which is just one name long: Caleb Burkhart. Each of the other 30 matchups for Schon this year have been a forfeit (11), a technical fall (12) or a fall (6). Burkhart lost 15-4, but he considers it one of the better matches he’d wrestled this season.

“I just go out and wrestle anybody who’s in front of me,” Burkhart said. I felt good. He’s strong and athletic, but I felt like I really rolled with him.”

At 6-foot-5, Burkhart has trouble keeping athletic heavyweights off his legs. But those who want to slow a match down and spend 6 minutes hand-fighting work right into where Burkhart is best.

He’ll enter Saturday’s District 4 Class AA tournament as the second seed at 285 pounds behind Ulrich, whose only loss this season is also to Schon. A year after the 285-pound District 4 field was deep with senior wrestlers, it’s led this year by Ulrich, a sophomore, and a group other wrestlers looking to make a breakthrough to their first regional tournament.

“I need to get a lot more going on my feet, but other than that I feel pretty good,” Burkhart said. “I’ve been through the ringer before, so I think it’s my time to shine.”

PROVING HIMSELF

Cade Wirnsberger was expecting to grow. He knew cutting down to 106 pounds last year he was preventing his body from growing as it naturally would.

So during the offseason, the Meadowbrook Christian sophomore focused on spending time in the weight room and just let his body grow. Surprisingly, he ballooned all the way up to 132 pounds. Wirnsberger is noticeably stronger. He’s also trying to prove he’s still the same wrestler who was ranked No. 1 in the state for a good chunk of time last season at 106 pounds.

Saturday he took a big step in that direction, winning his second consecutive Central Section championship, beating a pair of state-ranked wrestlers to win the 132-pound crown.

“I thought maybe I’d be at 120 or something, but I lifted in the offseason and tried to build some muscle and gain some weight,” Wirnsberger said. “I don’t think I’ve changed much about my wrestling style, but being stronger definitely helps me. Last year, I don’t think strength was a big factor. But now that I’m stronger, I feel like strength is a big factor in my wrestling.”

Even though he was the top-ranked 106-pounder in the state from a district which produced a pair of state medalists last year, Wirnsberger’s season ended disappointingly. After winning Central Section and District 4 titles, Wirnsberger lost in the semifinals at regionals to eventual state champion Branden Wentzel, who he had previously beaten twice. Then he lost in the blood round to South Williamsport’s Bobby Gardner, who he was previously 3-0 against.

Missing out on going to the state tournament after such a strong season, Wirnsberger is focused on giving himself another opportunity to make a run at Hershey. He’s searched out strong competition in the Lions’ dual meets, even when some of that competition may have run away from him. He also finished sixth at the Powerade Tournament, reaching the semifinals before dropping three consecutive matches.

But it’s that adversity which has Wirnsberger believing he’s better suited to make a run through the postseason this year.

Wirnsberger not only scored points during his two wins against state-ranked wrestlers last week, but he prevented them, too. He beat 18th-ranked Dylan Granahan, 7-0, in the semifinals before beating 24th-ranked and two-time state qualifier Bryce Vollman, 5-0, in the final.

“I’ve gone through more adversity this year, and I think it helps,” Wirnsberger said. “Taking more losses means finding ways you can improve.”

FOLLOWING HIS FEET

Bobby Gardner doesn’t even try to hide the fact that he’s most comfortable on his feet. It’s where the South Williamsport junior is most dangerous, so he tries to get there as often as possible.

In the second period with a 2-0 lead in the 113-pound final Saturday, Gardner quickly and happily chose to wrestle on his feet. And even though he didn’t score, it was two minutes his opponent didn’t score either.

“That’s where I train the most,” Gardner said. “I’m most comfortable and most confident in myself on my feet knowing I can take anyone down from there.”

After Warrior Run’s Kaden Milheim escaped early in the third period to cut Gardner’s lead to 2-1, Gardner scored a decisive takedown with 10 seconds to go for a 4-1 victory. But the work on his feet wasn’t even necessarily about the takedowns he scored, but by the scrambles he made fighting off tough shots from Milheim, who entered undefeated and ranked 10th in the state.

“I feel comfortable in scramble positions because my coaches work with my constantly on being comfortable in all positions and being confident in those positions,” Gardner said. “This was great and it’s going to get me ready for districts, ready for regionals and ready for super regionals. I’m ready to go there and take on every match.”

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