WVC’s Top Wrestlers Looking To Take Extra Step This Season
By the final day of last season’s state wrestling tournament, everyone in the Wyoming Valley Conference was relegated to spectator status.
Those who tuned in for Day 3’s medal rounds saw the rest of the state’s best wrestlers show why they belonged on the medal stand. Throughout the weekend, WVC wrestlers also got a look at what it would take to make it that far this season.
“Gotta work harder,” was the simple takeaway for Valley West senior David Krokowski, one of five WVC qualifiers who fell a round short of a medal back in March.
“The competition’s real hard down there. Just seeing everybody around the state, there’s different wrestling styles.
“Everybody has their own unique way of wrestling. You got to be ready for anything.”
Krokowski, speaking at the conference’s preseason media day, wasn’t the only wrestler who took that simple notion, “work harder,” to heart over the offseason. Following months of dedication to the sport, some of the WVC’s best PIAA hopefuls are back to leading their teams in the 2018-19 season — and they’re off to scorching-hot starts.
Krokowski, Dallas senior Steven Newell, Hanover Area senior D.J. Erickson, Hazleton Area senior Shane Noonan and Tunkhannock junior David Evans were all one win away from securing a state medal at the 2018 PIAA championships. The first few weeks of the 2018-19 season are in the books, and those five sport a combined 51-5 record (91.1 win pct.).
That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to those in their practice rooms every day. The close calls at states stung, and might still sting, but they’ve provided plenty of motivation to come back stronger this year.
“Losing in states in the blood rounds — the worst feeling in the world. You’re so close to getting that state medal, and you lose,” Noonan said following Hazleton Area’s recent victory over Dallas. “I just think about the feeling that I had last year. … It definitely motivated me.”
Noonan (10-0) couldn’t have had a better start to his final season with the Cougars.
The 220-pounder won tournament titles at the Top Hat and Panther Holiday Classic competitions. In the Cougars’ important Division 1 win over Dallas, last year’s 195-pound District 2 champion bumped up to heavyweight and pinned the defending district champion at that weight, his sixth fall of the season.
“It’s definitely very confidence-boosting,” Noonan said. “It makes me think I can continue to wrestle at such a high level.”
“He knows what it takes,” Hazleton Area coach Keith Maurer added that night, “and I believe his goal is definitely to be on that podium this year. He’s working hard toward that, and I hope he can accomplish that.”
Erickson (9-1) spent the offseason at any mat he could find. He took part a few tournaments, including a win in the Keystone State Games held in Luzerne County this past summer. He also soaked in all the knowledge he could get while at Penn State for a camp hosted by the NCAA dynasty.
Like anyone else, Erickson said, he’s hoping to do well as a senior and is willing to push himself all year to have a memorable winter. So far, so good; the two-time state qualifier won a season-opening invitational in Bloomsburg.
“Everybody knows my goal, and that’s to bring home a state medal,” Erickson said. “I want to get 100 wins. I want to break the school record here.”
He, Krokowski and Newell are all chasing school records, in fact.
Newell (10-1) has just ran into one speed bump this season, a loss in the 182-pound finals of the Penn Manor Tournament to Maximus Hale, the Downingtown West state medalist who ended his 2017-18 season. But Newell’s lone loss last regular season propelled him to a strong overall postseason, and even an admittedly disappointing regionals performance pushed Newell to a nice showing at states.
“Sometimes a loss can be more beneficial to a wrestler than a win,” Newell said this preseason.
Following a summer of workouts hosted by Valley West, Krokowski (11-1) has been his usual dominant self. He recently earned a medal at Wyoming Seminary’s X-Calibur tournament with a win over a three-time regional medalist in the process.
Evans also said he was hoping to focus on the losses he suffered at the PIAA tournament in Hershey, benefit from them and get further this year. He’s off to an 11-2 start with eight pins.
His teammate at Tunkhannock, Tommy Traver, has a stellar resume of his own but fell short of advancing from regionals in 2017-18. His own defeat drove him to grind even more in the offseason.
“I wrestled probably 80 matches this summer. Just kept going and going,” Traver, 10-0 this season and Tunkhannock’s new all-time wins leader, said. “It was a good offseason. Hopefully we can prove a point this year.”
There’s plenty of wrestling to go, but the WVC’s top returnees have all made it clear they aren’t content with previous success so far.
More chances to make big statements will come with another batch of holiday tournaments, including Tunkhannock’s, before the WVC converges for its annual tournament at the beginning of January. Expect to see the same high-quality wrestling there as in the past, according to Dallas coach Mike Richards’ evaluation of the league.
“Everybody says (2017-18) was a down-year for District 2. And yeah, as far as medals, it was,” Richards said. “But we’ve always had solid kids, and I don’t think that’s changed. I think we still do. …
“I think, overall, we’re right where we need to be. I think we’ll be competitive this year, regional and state-wise.”
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