HERSHEY — When Southern Columbia first made it to the PIAA Team Wrestling Championships at Giant Center in 2016, the Tigers never really had a shot at gold.
Experiencing the atmosphere at the sport’s top level of competition, however, was a welcome opportunity.
Not so much in 2019.
The Tigers are not worried about atmosphere. They are not worried about who gets the most pins or how big the crowd is.
Southern Columbia is looking for gold.
Head coach Jerry Marks said, “Coach (Kent) Lane talked to the guys and this is a business trip. This is not a fun trip to be on. We’re not going to Chocolate World and we’re not going on the rollercoasters.”
That mentality was blatantly obvious during the first bout of Thursday’s 62-6 rout of Conneaut Area, which pitted Tigers sophomore Ian Yoder against Patrick Powell at 126 pounds.
Yoder jumped into the lead on a takedown less than a minute into the match, and eventually built the lead to 7-2 by the end of the second period.
But the Southern Columbia coaching staff made it very clear that Yoder needed more, despite the fact that the Tigers entered the match as overwhelming favorites ranked second in the state in Class 2A.
Yoder responded to the coaches’ critiques with a late pin, taking Powell to the mat and ending the match with 31 seconds remaining.
“We’re here for a reason and I think our guys showed today that they’re determined and they’re ready to persevere through the tournament,” Marks said.
Aside from Conneaut’s talented middleweights, which netted two three-point decisions at 152 and 160 pounds from Brendan Laird (25-6) and Peyton Hearn (25-2), the Tigers breezed through the match and earned seven pins along the way.
Freshman Gavin Garcia (10-1) took down senior Wes Davenport (21-7) while building a 10-8 major decision in his first appearance on the mats at Hershey. Kole Biscoe (31-3) also won his first Giant Center appearance, pinning Conneaut sophomore Brady Gould (16-11) in just 49 seconds, the quickest fall of the match.
Biscoe, whose impressive freshman record is bolstered by a Trojan Wars title, said the experience of wrestling on high school’s biggest stage is one he won’t soon forget.
“Being by myself, I took a picture before everybody got here and I sent it to my father and said, ‘This is real,’” Biscoe said.
He said the team has embraced the attitude of settling for nothing less than a state title and he is looking forward to the upcoming matches with increasingly stronger competition.
BROOKVILLE IS NEXT
Southern Columbia will meet Brookville, a 40-28 winner over Lake Lehman in the first round, during today’s Class 2A quarterfinals set to begin at noon.
Southern will again be favored, and if they’re successful in getting the afternoon victory, will hit the mats at 8 p.m. in the semifinals against the winner of Hamburg Area and Chestnut Ridge.
The tournament’s finals are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday.
It’s no secret that Southern Columbia has produced strong sports teams in the past, but what the Tigers have done this year is taking success to a whole new level.
After winning two state team titles in the fall (football and girls soccer), Southern has found itself in position to possibly add a third with team wrestling.
The Tigers opened the year ranked first in the state, though they have dropped below Reynolds despite going 18-0 in the regular season. The Tigers lost to Reynolds by a mere five points last season, 30-25, in the state finals.
When asked if he has taken a moment to step back and appreciate what the school has been able to do this year in terms of athletics, Marks said, “I have. I look to the athletics twitter account and some of the things that the sports teams have done this year are amazing. Football won a district title, girls soccer won a district title, wrestling won a district title and the track and field team is expected to be great also.”
He continued, “We have great student-athletes and great parents who have done their work in their younger years. If we can pull this off — I’ll tell you one thing — I’ll be in tears.”