PUNXSUTAWNEY — Just as their elder peers did, Punxsy's junior high wrestlers took to the mats for their first official dual meet on Wednesday evening. Unfortunately for the younger team, the result wasn't quite the same, as the Stingers downed the Chucks 51-30 to earn the victory.
"It was a bit of a rough start for our junior high wrestlers in our first dual meet of the season," Punxsy head coach Bill Burke said. "Marion Center has a nice team with some well-seasoned wrestlers. Although they were missing a few guys for this match, we still didn't match up with them very well at all."
Inexperience is a common thing at the junior high level, and Burke said it showed in the opening bout at 95 pounds, where Marion Center's Michael Turner earned a quick 12-second pin over Punxsy's Richard Waltman to give MC the 6-0 edge.
"Richard took to the mat for his first bout ever, and his inexperience certainly showed against a pretty tough kid," Burke said. "He seems to pick up on things quickly, though. He just needs to learn to be more aggressive. He's a bit too timid now, so hopefully the aggressiveness will come."
At 95 pounds, Punxsy's difficulties continued, as Charlie Beatty picked up another six-point pin, this time in 2:48 over Punxsy's Brett Buck, to push his team's lead to 12-0.
"Brett had another tough kid. He wrestled a decent first period, but I know Brett was tentative as he had lost to Beatty at Clarion this past Saturday," Burke said. "He just needs to learn to overcome those fears and just go out there and wrestle his best, regardless of who he is facing."
Marion Center's lead jumped to 18 at 100 pounds, where Punxsy was unable to field a participant, and with no contest at 105, the bout moved to 110 pounds with the same score.
At 110, MC's Chalen Cornetto earned a hard-fought, 2-0 decision over Punxsy's Stone Smith. Cornetto was the only opponent to defeat Smith at the weekend tournament in Clarion, and Burke said he'd hoped Smith could bounce back and build some confidence in the re-match.
"We really expected Stone to rebound from that previous loss," Burke said. "It wasn't that he wrestled a bad match; he just didn't execute some things as well as he could have, and those are things we're going to have to work on with him. That was really a match we could have won."
Cornetto's three-point decision pushed the Stingers' lead to 21, and another forfeiture at 115 gave Marion Center the 27-point edge before another no contest at 122.
Instead of trading forfeits at 122 and 130, Punxsy decided to bump up its 122-pounder Ryan Jones to face Michael Stewart at 130 pounds.
While the move didn't pay off on the scoreboard, as Stewart pinned Jones in the second period at 2:28 to extend his team's lead to 33, Burke believed that giving his young wrestler a bit more experience was more of a benefit.
"We were well aware that Stewart is a very good wrestler," Burke said. "But at this level, we're more concerned about getting matches, so we weren't about to trade forfeits. I really wanted to see how Ryan would do against him, and for the most part, he wrestled really well through the first period, in which neither wrestler managed to score a point."
Burke said Jones' downfall came in the second period, though, as Stewart made a good move after Punxsy elected to start down.
"We chose bottom to start the second period, and Ryan let Stewart tie up his arms with a double bar, which is very difficult to escape from," Burke said. "It quickly led to a fall for Stewart. That only showed that we definitely need to work on better hand control with everyone, from all positions."
Trailing by 33, Punxsy's young squad was able to crack the scoreboard in the next two weight classes.
At 138 pounds, Marion Center was unable to field a grappler, giving Jared Weber the six-point victory.
Then, at 145, Levi Campbell picked up a second win by forfeit to cut the gap to 33-12.
"Forfeits definitely aren't the way we like to score team points, but sometimes, that's just the way the cookie crumbles," Burke said."
At 155 pounds, Marion Center's Brad Smith stopped Punxsy's scoring rally, though, when action returned to the mat by pinning John Mark Miller in :38, giving the Stingers a 39-12 advantage.
In the next three weight classes, Punxsy earned forfeits — Alex Young at 165, Gage Bozman at 185 and Caleb Harvey at 210 — for 18 team points, cutting the lead to just 9 points at 39-30.
Despite the battles on the mat not taking place, Burke spoke of another battle many of these wrestlers face — finding ways to responsibly make weight.
"I give Alex Young a great deal of credit simply for making weight," he said. "He's brand new to the sport, but he has all the potential in the world. He had to sacrifice and work hard to get down to 165, but he did it with flying colors. Unfortunately, MC didn't have an opponent for him last night, but we'll take the victory just the same."
At 250 pounds, the Chucks took what Burke called "a bit of a gamble," sending Blake Bizousky to the mat to face Jordan Gromley.
"Blake would normally be our starter at 210, but given that they didn't have a 210-pounder, we decided to bump him up to 250. Unfortunately, it didn't pay off."
Gromley was able to earn a late first-period pin at 1:24 to extend the Stinger lead back to 15 points.
"We know Blake is a tough kid and a great athlete, but he's also another one of our first-year wrestlers, so we might have bumped him up just a little too soon," Burke said. "Their heavyweight was a little tougher than we expected. Although he gave up a pin, Blake still did a great job. He did some good things, just as he's been taught, and now, he just needs to work on his hip positioning. Gromley was just a little too big for him at this point. But once Blake gains some more experience, look out!"
At that point, the bout switched to the lightweights, where John Miller picked up a six-point forfeit for the Stingers at 75 pounds to push the lead to 51-30.
After no bout at 80 pounds, Punxsy sent Zoie Smith to the mat at 85 pounds, where she earned the Chucks their first points of the night on the mat with a closely-contested, 1-0 victory over Tyler Zapach.
"I don't think this was one of Zoie's better matches, but she did what she had to do to get the win," Burke said. "She has been suffering a bit with a banged up elbow over the last few days, which may have had her wrestling a bit cautiously, but all-in-all, she wrestled a solid match. Hopefully, we can get her healed up for next week."
Before the match concluded, there was one exhibition match, where MC's Decosta Bobak picked up a victory via pin over Punxsy's Shawn Bevak.
Despite the fact that it wasn't the prettiest dual for the Chucks, Burke was still able to see the upside.
"This was certainly an ugly loss for us, but considering our inexperience, we know we're in for an uphill climb this season," he said. "All we can do at this point is learn from our mistakes and try to build and improve one day at a time. We may not win a lot of matches, but we will certainly focus on improvement. If we can do that, some wins will eventually come."