In February, Southern Columbia’s wrestling team finished their team dual season one victory away from winning the state championship. For the second year in a row, the Tigers earned the PIAA Class 2A Team Dual runner-up trophy. In both 2018 and 2019, SCA battled with Reynolds for the gold. In both years, it was the Raiders finishing on top with both title events coming down to the final match of the meet.
“That was tough because I know how bad our guys wanted to win that state title as a team. Give Reynolds credit because they found ways to get it done for the second year in a row. We had a chance heading into the final match both times,” said Southern Columbia’s head coach Jerry Marks.
As grueling of a sport wrestling is, the reward is that a team can get a second chance at a team state championship. To get the second one, though, it is a month-long journey where each individual wrestler who makes the postseason lineup must survive and advance. Over the course of four consecutive weeks, immediately following the two-week stretch before district- and state-team duals, wrestlers must grind it out to secure a spot at the Giant Center in Hershey for a chance to stand on the podium as a top-eight finisher.
“Finishing in second as a team at states for the dual season provided us with motivation heading into the individual team postseason,” said junior Gaige Garcia. “We were hungry to get as many individuals to states as we could to try to win the team title.”
The Tigers, who hosted their sectional for the fourth year in a row, broke the South Sectional scoring record and advanced all 14 of their wrestlers to the District 4 tournament.
“It showed that we are a strong team. Not for just this year, but also going into next year because only two of those guys were seniors,” said junior Lear Quinton.
The following week, in Williamsport, Southern Columbia ran away with the District 4 title. They advanced 11 of their athletes and broke the tournament’s team scoring record. The following Saturday, the Tigers pulled off the record-trifecta by breaking the Northeast Regional Tournament scoring record as well. A program record nine wrestlers placed high enough to advance to the PIAA Class 2A state tournament.
Gaige Garcia and Cade Linn, both juniors, advanced for the third time.
“It is great to make it to Hershey. We have a great crowd following that supports us all season,” Linn said.
Junior Lear Quinton and sophomore Pat Edmondson advanced for the second year in a row. Junior Preston Zachman, and sophomores Tyler Waltman and Ian Yoder, made their first trip to Hershey.
“I wasn’t satisfied getting third place at regionals, but I still felt pretty pumped to wrestle at states for my first time,” said Zachman.
The dynamic freshmen-duo of Kole Biscoe and Gavin Garcia advanced to Chocolate Town as rookies as well.
“As a staff we had high expectations of Kole and Gavin coming into the season. We have had multiple freshmen place over the past few years in Todd Lane, Blake Marks, Jaret Lane, Gaige Garcia and Pat Edmondson,” said assistant coach Kent Lane. “It’s what we do here and it’s kind of expected. Kole and Gavin both believed in the process and in their abilities and they didn’t disappoint. I foresee big things from these two hammers moving forward.”
After three long days of wrestling, Southern Columbia had six of its nine wrestlers earn a spot on arguably the most treasured podium in the country. Highlighted by Gaige Garcia’s 195-pound state title, the Tigers brought home a silver, a bronze, two fourths, and a seventh-place finisher. Two of the other three wrestlers added victories in the tournament as well. Putting the success all together, it was enough for Southern Columbia to run away with the PIAA Class 2A Individual Team State Championship.
Gaige Garcia gets gold
Gaige Garcia is about as familiar with the big stage as any high school athlete in the country. From his freshman year until now, he has been to the state finals as a key contributor for both the football and wrestling teams. He has also made an appearance at state track & field championships. With all of the successes, the one big part that he felt was missing was a gold medal in wrestling.
He fulfilled that emptiness by locking up the 195-pound title. With the team title already assured, Garcia won an individual gold by beating Kolby Franklin of St. Joseph’s Academy 5-2.
“It was something I wanted since my freshman year. My mentality this year wasn’t being content with making the podium. Anything less than standing at the top of it would have been a disappointment for me,” said the champion.
Garcia advanced to the state semifinals for the third consecutive season, but in the previous two attempts he was left with a sense of anger and disappointment. The third time was the charm as the three-sport athlete got over the hump and advanced to the title match.
“Gaige is physically and mentally strong. He is smart and willing to outwork his opponents to get where he wants to be,” said Marks. “He is such a competitor and doesn’t settle for anything less than being the best. He is our team’s leader and does what he can to motivate our entire squad.”
The three-time South Sectional, District 4, and regional champion lost during his first two semifinal appearances in heartbreaking fashion. During his freshman season, he lost to eventual state champion 3-2. The following season ended with a 3-1 loss in overtime. This season; however, he was on the winning end of an intense 3-2 victory.
He then went on to win the gold in his next match, finishing with a record of 47-0. He will enter his senior season with a career record of 114-6 and a chance to pass former teammate, and two-time state champion, Jaret Lane for the best winning percentage in the history of the Tiger program.
Garcia also has the chance to become the first Southern wrestler to ever pull off the rare career sweep of winning the gold in all four years at the sectional, district and regional tournaments. As any top-tier athlete would be, Garcia isn’t content with just those titles.
“I expect to be back in Hershey next year to win my second state title. I know how hard it is, but I won’t settle for anything less,” Garcia said.
If he was to win, he would be the third wrestler to ever win two crowns. He would be joining his head coach, Jerry Marks, and former teammate, Jaret Lane, as the first two to get it done in the black and gold singlet.
Biscoe makes name known
The Tigers coaching staff was hoping to see great things out of Biscoe in his rookie season.
“Kole is very focused in his preparation, his training and during competition. Despite tearing his meniscus, the day before the South Sectional tournament, he stayed focused on the preparation and plan from week to week. We felt all along he could be a state finalist this year and he wrestled his best when it mattered most in Hershey,” said Kent Lane.
By the end of the season, Biscoe did more than just contribute. The 113-pound grappler set a new school record for wins by a freshman as he compiled a record of 46-7 while saving his best wrestling for the final weekend of the season.
In the three tournaments leading up the state championships, Biscoe didn’t win a gold medal at any of them. He finished with the silver at the South Sectional, and then followed up with the bronze at the District 4 and NE Regional tournaments. Biscoe decided to use those losses as motivation as he would show his own magic in front of the entire state the following weekend.
“I wanted to do the best at the state tournament. It matters what happens at the state tournament and not the tournaments leading up to states,” said Biscoe. “I knew how bad it felt to lose and I didn’t want that feeling again so that gave me the extra drive.”
In Hershey, the young Tiger won his first three matches to make it all the way to the 113-pound championship match, finishing ahead of his district foes who had beaten him in the weeks prior. The final didn’t go as Biscoe wanted, falling to freshman Jackson Arrington of Forest Hills, but he made a name for himself that he hopes will lead to future success on the mat.
“I will continue to train hard and keep getting better on everything that I can control,” said the freshman.
Biscoe will have three more opportunities to win gold, and he may have to face off with Arrington in each of those years. Although Arrington won the final 10-3, Biscoe had beaten him earlier in the season at a tournament, which could provide a positive outlook trying to get back to the final in 2020.
Younger Garcia battle-tested
Freshman Gavin Garcia had about as successful of an elementary and junior-high career as anyone has ever had in the state of Pennsylvania. Over the seven full seasons that he was healthy for, he won PJW State Championships in all of them. Missing some time due to injury to start his first varsity season, Garcia had to enter the South Sectional 145-pound weight class as the ninth seed.
“I would say he has to be up there as arguably the most talented ninth seed to ever enter a sectional tournament,” said Marks with a laugh.
He had to wrestle a pig-tail match just to make it to the opening round. From that point forward, for the next three weeks, Garcia was nothing short of dominant as he captured titles in the sectional, district and regional tournaments.
“I have confidence in myself. I try to give everything that I have every time that I step on to the mat,” said the younger Garcia who finished his season with a record of 27-3.
During the state championships, Garcia was the only Tiger who had to wrestle six matches over the course of the three-day tournament. After pinning his first-round opponent in the first period, he was faced to wrestle against Notre Dame-Green Pond’s junior Andrew Cerniglia who transferred in after wrestling his first two years at Nazareth. Cerniglia blanked Garcia 6-0 and went on the capture the 145-pound state title without surrendering a single point throughout the tournament. Garcia would then battle back to win three straight, including a 5-4 victory over defending state champion Nathan Haubert of Palisades, to make it to the bronze medal match. He lost 3-0 to three-time state place-winner Caleb Dowling to finish with an impressive fourth-place medal at arguably the state’s toughest weight class.
“It wasn’t the outcome that I wanted, but now the focus is getting back to Hershey and getting to the top of the podium,” Gavin Garcia said.
The junior class at Southern Columbia is regarded as arguably the top athletic class to ever walk the halls of the school.
“It is an honor to coach this group. They are hard workers and want to win in everything. They put in the time in the weight room and offseason training to help get to the highest level of high school wrestling,” said Marks.
Gaige Garcia was the obvious headline out of the junior group of grapplers by winning the state gold, but the junior trio of Preston Zachman, Lear Quinton and Cade Linn all fought through the grueling championships to finish on the podium.
“It’s cool to see your friends be successful like that. Growing up and competing as teammates with these guys, I know how hard they work. We all support each other and bring out the best in each other,” said Gaige Garcia.
Zachman compiled a season record of 46-9, finishing as the 220-pound bronze medalist. As a freshman, he didn’t make the Tigers post-season lineup. During his sophomore year he was hampered due to a football injury that kept him out of the lineup.
“It really motivated me all season long, then once I got to states, I wasn’t going to screw up that opportunity,” Zachman said.
Zachman’s pinning move was so dominant that it led him to having the most pins in the entire state of Pennsylvania for the season. His 35 falls were one more than teammate Gaige Garcia who finished second in the state with 34. Two of Zachman’s pins came at the Giant Center to help him earn a third-place medal. In the semifinals, he lost 4-0 to eventual state champion Jacob McMaster of Greenville. He then fought back to win his next two matches including a dominant 10-2 victory over Montoursville’s Cameron Wood who had beaten Zachman twice during the season.
Quinton had arguably the toughest task on any of SCA’s wrestlers during the duration of the season. The team’s heavyweight, who could have comfortably eaten McDonalds or Burger King without worry all season, was giving up weight to virtually everyone that he wrestled.
“The lightest I was during a match this season was 202 pounds. It was tough to try and move those guys and especially when they got on top. I just tried to hit the corners quickly so their weight didn’t get on me,” said Quinton, who could legally weigh up to 285 pounds for his weight class.
The junior, who is near the top of his class academically, finished the year with a record of 43-8 and will more than likely pick up his 100th career win before the end of the year. Quinton had an unblemished individual postseason run entering Hershey as he won the sectional, district and regional gold medals. He lost in the PIAA semifinals by a score of 8-4, to Brookeville’s state champion Colby Whitehill. He then won his next match before falling in the bronze medal match to finish fourth in the state. After finishing one win away from medaling last year at the Giant Center, it was a rewarding year for the underweight heavyweight.
Cade Linn made his third trip to the state championships and had enough success to pick up his second medal. He didn’t medal as a freshman, but he picked up a seventh-place finish as a sophomore and duplicated that result as a junior. The district champion and regional runner-up, picked up his 100th career win late in the postseason and finished the season with a 22-8 record after missing time with an injury.
“It was tough at first with the conditioning, but I eventually got to where I wanted to be. I’m happy with getting another medal and hope to get a third one next year,” Linn said.
Although none of the three sophomores who advanced to states picked up a medal, they provided the Tiger faithful with some exciting matches along the way. Ian Yoder contributed by adding some important team points as he fought back to pick up two victories in the consolation bracket, including a pin, after dropping his opening round match. He came up one win from a spot on the podium as he finished 2-2 in the tournament.
“It was a great experience and I hope to be able to build off of it heading into next season. Being a part of a state championship team is a great feeling,” said Yoder who finished the season with a record of 31-14 as the Tigers 126-pounder.
Tyler Waltman, who was a regional runner-up, won his opening match at Hershey via a first-period pin. The 182-pounder lost in his next two matches to end his season at 31-14.
“With how long and tough a wrestling season is, it felt great knowing I was helping the team out by getting bonus points,” Waltman said. The sophomore was happy to even get the opportunity to wrestle after having to wear a back brace for nearly three months to heal an injury.
The third sophomore to advance to states was Patrick Edmondson who made a return trip, after he finished with a sixth-place medal as a freshman. As the Tigers 132-pounder, Edmondson compiled a record of 42-10 including a district crown and a regional runner-up. Unfortunately, he was unable to pick up a win to repeat as a state medalist.
“My end of the year didn’t go as planned, but the rest of the guys did their best and wrestled a fantastic tournament to bring gold to Southern Columbia wrestling,” Edmondson said.
Edmondson still has two years left and he will look to pick up his 100th career win early on next season.
Keystone is king
When it comes up to wrestling in the country, there isn’t a more dominant state than Pennsylvania. At the NCAA Championships, the podium is filled with state products throughout the different weight classes. It’s no wonder that Penn State University has won eight of the past nine NCAA Championships. At the high school level, it is a three-month physically and mentally demanding grind that the grapplers need to endure knowing they are going up against the country’s best.
“It is so tough to wrestle in Pennsylvania. Look at the rosters of all the successful college programs and there is a good chance that they have guys from Pennsylvania on their roster,” said Marks. “You can’t take any days off in this state or else you are going to fall behind your opponent.”
At the end of each wrestling season, a committee selects an all-star lineup with senior wrestlers to compete in the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic (formerly known as the “Dapper Dan”). The match is simple to understand just how dominant the Keystone State is with wrestling. One of the teams is made of just state wrestlers, and the other squad is filled with the best wrestler at each weight class of the other 49 combined states.
“It is an honor to have the chance to wrestle in that event. You get to see the best of the best and it is a rewarding achievement for sure when you get the call that you are selected to be on the roster,” said Southern graduate Jaret Lane.
The two-time (2017 and 2018) state champion was on Team PA last year and the Lehigh-commit won his match.
The two most dominant sports currently at Southern Columbia are obviously the football team, which recently won its record ninth state title, and the wrestling team. With most of the key athletes participating for both programs, they just simply don’t know what it feels like to lose often.
“That’s a credit to these guys that put in the work to get the results that they do. To be a part of both a football and wrestling state championship in the same year is just simply incredible,” said Marks.
The football program is currently riding a 71-game regular season winning streak dating back to 2011. Adding another streak, the wrestling program heads into next season winning 43 consecutive dual meets against district foes.
“I know we can break the state record next year in football for wins in a row. I’m not sure what the wrestling record is for the district, but we will go out and try to take care of business to keep that streak alive as well,” said Gaige Garcia.
Building a powerhouse
When Marks was hired as the head wrestling coach at his alma mater back in 2009, he had a tall task ahead of him. At the time, the basketball program was the highlight of the Southern Columbia winter sports season. The wrestling program struggled to find enough wrestlers to fill a lineup. If there was someone that was capable of turning the program around, it was a Southern Columbia alum and former two-time state champion.
“When I was hired, I knew where I wanted to hopefully help get the program eventually. I knew though that it wasn’t going to happen overnight,” said Marks, who won individual state titles in 1987 and 1988.
He also knew how important it was to put together a quality staff, and who better than Kent Lane Sr., who was a former state champion at North Schuylkill, in 1982, to be his partner. He would also add other key pieces to his staff.
“I have a great group of assistant coaches who put in countless hours and the success wouldn’t be possible without their dedication over the years,” said Marks.
In just a decade, the staff has helped bring the program to the highest level. They have over powered at districts and the grapplers have earned three-straight team trophies at the state Team Dual Championships. In 2017, the Tigers finished in third place and they have earned the second-place trophy in each of the past two years. Both Marks and Lane were chosen as the PIAA Class 2A Head Coach and Assistant Coach of the Year, respectively, for their work in helping to get the Tigers to the pinnacle of high school wrestling.
In 2018, the Tigers finished with two state silver team trophies, with Reynolds winning gold for both the Team Dual and Individual Team Championships. With the Raiders narrowly beating the Tigers for the dual title on Feb. 9 for the first title of 2019, Southern Columbia knew they had the chance to regroup and steal the gold a month later.
“We knew that we had a great tournament team just based on how we competed in the post season last year,” said Lane. “The hard part is keeping everyone focused especially after coming home from a crushing defeat like we had in the state duals final against Reynolds. The run to Hershey is very draining mentally in that it is four separate tournaments. This is a mentally tough, resilient group of athletes who love chasing records and titles. They were laser focused and it showed every week by how many guys we advanced and by our team scores.”
On March 9, thanks to eight wrestlers combining to earn team points, it was Southern Columbia hoisting the gold trophy as the PIAA Class 2A team champions.
“It has been a great year for us. The soccer team won a state title for the first girls state championship ever. Then a lot of us were on the undefeated football team that won another state championship. Right after that we had to go right into wrestling season and getting that third team title at the school for this year is rewarding,” said Gavin Garcia.
With the success of Gaige Garcia (1st), Kole Biscoe (2nd), Preston Zachman (3rd), Gavin Garcia (4th), Lear Quinton (4th), and Cade Linn (7th) all finishing on the podium and two others combining for three wins, the Tigers were able to roll on to winning the state championship. Southern Columbia finished with 121 team points with St. Joseph’s Academy (95), Notre Dame-Green Pond (80), Reynolds (68), and Saucon Valley (64) rounding out the top five in the Class 2A standings.
“We broke the Sectional, District and Northeast Regional team scoring records and had the fourth highest point total in the AA State tournament since 1976,” said Lane. “We have a process as to how we prep for the post season and this group peaked at the right time. In the last seven years we’ve had nine state finalists, four state champs, and 24 medalists. The guys just keep executing the game plan.”