Dallas Heavyweight Henninger Battle-tested For States

March 5, 2019
Dallas Heavyweight Henninger Battle-tested For States

With his opponent and state qualification slipping from his grasp, Dallas heavyweight Shawn Henninger had to make an adjustment on the fly.

Henninger and Bethlehem Liberty’s Jaden Freeman took their regional semifinal to tiebreaker periods, and both wrestlers didn’t need much time to escape during their turns at bottom position. That was good news for Freeman, as he returned to bottom for a final 30-second ultimate tiebreaker.

Henninger could not let Freeman get away again or else he’d have to risk his season in the consolation bracket. He followed instructions shouted from his coaches’ corner, and a struggle to the final buzzer ensued.

A tweak to his technique did just enough to keep Freeman down until the end and put Henninger in the Class 3A Northeast Regional finals and this week’s PIAA Wrestling Championships. Though the Dallas senior fell via tiebreaker in the regional title bout, his third overtime battle of the tournament showed he has enough juice to go the distance in the postseason.

“You got to have that gas tank to go into it. The (championship) didn’t work out, but a lot of them have,” Henninger said. “It just happens sometimes, but you got to have that gas tank inside of you to go three periods and more if need be.”

The state-qualifying win over Freeman turned into a battle of will at the end. Dallas’ corner wanted Henninger to pull Freeman’s ankle up and toward his waist to keep Freeman from exploding up and away.

It did the trick when they re-set at center mat with time running out in their final period. Henninger kept pulling down Freeman to his knees — until he finally brought himself to two feet.

As Freeman desperately tried to jostle his legs free for the winning escape, Henninger held on for what was essentially a shoestring tackle as time expired.

It sent Dallas coach Mike Richards jumping maybe a yard away from the action. He had seen Henninger come to regionals twice before — including as a District 2 champion last season — and go 1-2 at both tournaments.

“Shawn’s kind of had some difficulties here down at regionals the last couple years,” Richards said. “To come in and be a huge underdog and make it to the finals is tremendous.”

Despite a disappointing district tournament this year, Henninger didn’t allow himself to end his final season in Bethlehem Liberty’s gym, too. He said he took a day off after getting pinned in his D2 championship bout and had mostly shaken off the loss by his next practice.

Then came another week of conditioning drills for the Mountaineers, which helped him all weekend.

Henninger and Steven Newell, Dallas’ other state qualifier at 182 pounds, stressed the volume and importance of such work during practices. Richards said a two-hour postseason practice could consist of an hour and fifteen minutes of cardio work like running, Insanity workouts and live wrestling.

“When you get down to this level, they’re all good,” Richards said. “Some are better than others, but ultimately it’s the conditioning that makes the difference.”

Extra stamina is an added bonus for Henninger, who Richards added typically wrestles better against the larger heavyweights often seen this deep into the postseason.

Other heavyweights could’ve been fatigued well before reaching a ride-out overtime period. Even wrestling from the top position, though, Henninger prevailed against Freeman.

“I had one more period in me, I felt,” Henninger said.

A few hours later, Henninger returned to the mat and nearly did it again.

He and Stroudsburg’s Sami Khamis wrestled for the Northeast title and were tied, 1-1, after one tiebreaker period. Khamis didn’t completely fight out of Henninger’s grasp, either, but he clinched a 3-1 win when he spun around and reversed to Henninger’s back.

Henninger ultimately left with regional silver but more importantly a spot in this week’s state bracket. Marathons like the three overtimes he saw at regionals figure to only make him more battle-tested.

“A lot of those matches (at states) are with those bigger guys again,” he said. “You got to push them until they can’t wrestle or until this gassed. That’s when you come in and you take advantage of them being tired.”

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