The more things change in the world, the more they stay the same.
It will have a different look this year.
There won’t be a packed house.
The two teams aren’t both battling for the NTL title at this moment.
But, Wyalusing travels to Towanda for wrestling on Friday, and no matter the situation, it’s a match circled on every calendar for both teams.
“That’s always the match all our kids point towards,” Towanda coach Bill Sexton said. “The match our fans point to. It’s a shame we are not going to be able to have them in the gym this year, unfortunately that’s the way it is. I would rather have a match in front of nobody than no matches. Luckily we have everything set up so you can watch it on Youtube on the school’s channel so anyone that wants to watch it will have access.”
The Rams always love the chance to take on the Black Knights on the mat.
“We are very excited to wrestle Towanda this Friday,” Wyalusing coach Mike Earle said. “It is a fantastic high school rivalry and we are looking forward to a chance to bring the Standing Stone Trophy back to Wyalusing.”
Earle knows it will likely be a close match, and while the empty gym is tough to see, he expects many to watch the match online.
“As with most years, I think it will be a close match with a few key bouts determining the outcome,” Earle said. “I do feel bad that the kids have to miss out on the Towanda/Wyalusing crowd. There are very few events that match the intensity of the crowds we get for this rivalry. I’m sure a lot of people will be live streaming it.”
For the seniors in both lineups, this is their final time getting to face their biggest rivals.
“The seniors always look forward to that,” Sexton said. “The Standing Stone trophy is up for grabs, we have it and we want to hold onto it and I am sure Wyalusing wants to get it back. It’s always motivation when we wrestle them, it’s a big match every year.”
“Obviously we are counting on our three seniors (Evan) Johnson, (Clay) Watkins and (Alex) Perez to give us good efforts and the other kids have to step up to. You can’t win matches with three guys. We have to get other guys to come through and they did come through this weekend. All have had some degrees of success.”
While the Black Knights have three experienced seniors, it’s the younger kids who fill out a majority of the lineup.
“Absolutely we have a lot of first year varsity wrestlers and they are learning as we go so hopefully they keep improving,” Sexton said.
The Black Knights host Wyalusing today with a 6 p.m. junior high start and varsity to follow.
THE COMEBACK QUEEN
Twice this year Miah Lehman has found herself trailing in matches.
And twice this year she kept working, stayed in the match, and fought back to get pins.
Canton coach Lyle Wesneski knows that her conditioning is one of the keys.
“She’s in great conditioning number one,” he said. “She can go hard six minutes, she never gets tired. A lot of these teams, kids aren’t in great shape yet. If you can weather the storm for two periods, get to the third you stand a chance. She’s tough on top, the other night (against Mykee Nowell of Towanda) she got boots in again, and she’s hard to beat. She could have given up first period and gotten pinned. She fought though and kept fighting. I think it was 15-5 (she trailed) when she pinned the kid. You just don’t stop wrestling, you never know, you have six minutes.”
A year ago Lehman had success for Canton.
But, with a new group of youngsters joining an already talented team, she just worked even harder to make sure she had a role on the team this year.
“She has worked even harder because she knew it would be hard for her to earn a spot in the lineup,” Wesneski said. “She kept her weight down, and even dropped a weight class from last year. She made that commitment and we fill the lineup every week. I can remember the days we were giving up 30 points before the match was started, so that’s huge.”
One thing that helps Lehman is how hard she works in practices against her talented teammates.
“Miah is a senior and she’s an inspiration to those kids,” Wesneski said. “She never complains. She gets beat up in practice every day. She comes back, she is usually giving up a lot of strength to these guys that are 17-18 year old men. But, she goes out and works on her technique a lot and she has had some big wins already this year and the year is early.”
A TRUE INSPIRATION
In a perfect world Timmy Ward would still be wrestling for the Canton Warriors.
The senior worked so hard to have this senior year.
He came back after cancer and after a successful wrestling season a year ago, he was ready for a big final year.
But, a torn ACL in a football scrimmage ended his season before it began.
It would be easy to wallow in self pity.
It would be easy to walk away and not watch your teammates wrestle without you.
But, that’s not the way Ward is.
He spent most of football season doing everything from helping coach his teammates, to bringing water to them on the field.
Now, he is on the wrestling mats, helping to coach his teammates.
“He’s there, he gets practices started first thing every day,” Wesneski said. “He gets them going, tumbling, warming up. I’m traveling from Troy to Canton so he’s in charge of that. He’s a coach in the room. He can’t get in and wrestle with them, but he can talk them through it. He can give kids those mental talks that every kid needs.
“Sometimes it’s better to hear from a 19-year-old kid than a 48-year-old man like myself. It kind of hits home. That’s been a big part of it.”
Of course it is hard for Ward to not be on the mat.
And, of course it is tough for Canton to not have him wrestling.
But, Ward is mature enough to deal with the adversity.
“He has a great perspective on life with what he’s gone through, cancer and all that,” Wesneski said. “He understands there is a bigger picture. I know he is bummed. I know wrestling is not his first love, football is his first love, and he would tell you that. But, he’s a huge asset to the room and we are glad he is helping us any way possible. I would love to have him in a singlet wrestling though, I know that.”
Having wrestlers like Ward, and Lehman and fellow seniors Derek Atherton-Ely and Isaac Landis is a big help on a Canton team that is loaded with talented freshmen and sophomores.
“We are happy,” Wesneski said. “We knew the freshman group was talented last year. We always preached to them, we preached to them you have got to keep making the gains, you can’t be happy where you are. No one cares, work harder. You have to keep working forward.
“It’s a short season you have to get yourself in shape and prepare yourself for a five week meat grinder of a postseason. Cross your fingers and pray everyone has a chance. The freshmen, every one of them feeds off that energy. Isaac is a good leader. Timmy, Atherton-Ely, they do everything right. I don’t want to forget Miah, Miah is a senior and she’s an inspiration to these kids. They don’t ever miss practices, that’s contagious.”
A year ago NEB’s Jack Shumway got pinned by Towanda’s Evan Johnson.
Last week, the NEB senior faced the Towanda senior again.
This time Shumway picked up a 13-12 victory in an exciting back-and-forth match.
“With small numbers it really helps when kids like Jack step up and wrestle like they are capable of and more,” NEB coach Curt Cole said. “Helps us get on the board and shows the younger kids that there is hope and makes them work toward their goals.”
TEAM OF THE WEEK
The Canton Warriors are unbeaten to start this year, as they look to repeat as NTL Champions.
Already early this year they have a 40-22 win over Athens, the team that took them to the wire in a dual meet a year ago, and they beat perennial NTL power Towanda.
The Warriors are 6-0 early this season, including a pair of convincing non-league wins — beating South Williamsport 51-18 and Bloomsburg 66-8.
Canton will face a tough test next week as they go to Benton and Warrior Run on back-to-back days.
WRESTLER OF THE WEEK
There are a number of unbeaten wrestlers in the Canton lineup, but Hayden Ward’s start stands out among the rest.
Ward is not only unbeaten, but he’s done it against some top level competition.
Twice this year the Warriors have moved Ward up a weight in dual meets.
The first time he beat Chris Bathgate of Athens. And, against South Williamsport the sophomore returning state qualifier got a 5-2 win over Landon Lorson, who entered the match state ranked.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
The Canton Warriors travel to Benton on Wednesday in a key non-league matchup.
The two teams have a common opponent this year, as Canton beat Athens 40-22, while Benton topped the Wildcats 52-13 in the Line Mountain Duals.
Benton has three losses this year, but they are to Southern Columbia and Selinsgrove, the top AA team in the district last year and the top AAA team in the district, and by one point to a strong Montgomery team.
Benton features some big-time wrestlers, such as Nolan Lear, ranked fourth at 160, and Ethan Kolb, ranked sixth at 113, who just beat Southern Columbia’s Kole Biscoe, a state champion, 10-7 at 126.
Zach Poust is a state qualifier a year ago for Benton. Gable Strickland is a 3-time state qualifier, and two-time state medalist for Benton.
Canton has sophomore Hayden Ward and senior Derek Atherton-Ely who are returning state qualifiers and state ranked wrestlers.
Some key matchups could be Benton’s Chase Burke, who got a win against Southern Columbia, taking on Isaac Landis of Canton at 113.
Strickland could take on Hudson Ward of Canton, who is 6-0 as a freshman.
It’s possibly Poust and Atherton-Ely could square off and it’s possible Riley Parker, who is 6-0 on the year, could meet Lear.
Athens graduates Brian Courtney and A.J. Burkhart are each getting a chance to compete in Division I lineups this winter.
Courtney took on a former NCAA third-place finisher recently, dropping a tight 8-6 match.
Courtney, a redshirt junior at Virginia, took on nationally-ranked Tariq Wilson of North Carolina State at 141 pounds and fell 8-6 in Virginia’s 23-9 loss.
Wilson, a three-time NCAA qualifier was third in 2018 led early, before Courtney fought back and got a takedown to tie the bout at 6. A late reversal let the 10th ranked Wilson get the win.
It was the first loss of the year for Courtney, who is 4-1 on the year with a pair of falls. He is 34-19 in his career at Virginia.
Another Athens grad, AJ Burkhart, got his first start in the dual meet lineup for Lehigh and dropped a 9-8 match to Navy’s Andrew Cerniglia.
Lehigh fell to 0-2 on the year with a 21-9 loss to Navy.
Another District 4 standout, Jaret Lane, won his 125 pound match against Navy, beating Logan Treaster 1-0.
Some extra matches were wrestled on the day and Troy grad Sheldon Seymour took part in one of them, dropping a 6-4 match for Lehigh to Treaster at 125. In another extra match Burkhart beat Navy’s Wyatt Long 5-4.
Against No. 13 Pittsburgh, Seymour wrestled an extra match. Seymour dropped a 7-4 match on tiebreaker one to Colton Camacho of Pitt at 125.