Maybe in a different era, State College would jump into the Mid-Penn Conference and overpower wrestling opponents.
The Little Lions, after all, have produced 24 PIAA champions, the same total as the Commonwealth Division’s other seven schools combined.
The timing of the school’s conference move mask these facts.
State College is a young, inexperienced team. The program is rebuilding, an arduous bottom-up process. Youth and junior high numbers are increasing, a sign the Little Lions are headed in the right direction.
“It’s what keeps me driven, just looking into the future and seeing the kids in the junior high, looking good, working hard, learning wrestling and having a full roster and backups and all those things,” varsity coach Chad Dubin said.
Until young wrestlers age, State College faces a challenging transition period.
The Little Lions ended the Mid-Penn portion of the their schedule Thursday night against Central Dauphin East. They entered the home meet 5-16 overall and with one Mid-Penn victory, defeating Harrisburg 43-27 to begin this month.
Like many State College programs, the wrestling team has experienced adjustments in its first Mid-Penn season. Travel has been mild compared with other Little Lion teams. State College wrestled four of its seven Mid-Penn duals in the North Gym. The Little Lions visited Chambersburg last month, but they wrestled the Trojans in the Dale Bock Duals. State College wrestled four other duals during the holiday event, making the 2-hour, 30-minute trip worthwhile.
The biggest differences are on the mat. The quality and popularity of District 3 wrestling has increased throughout the past decade. The rise of Mid-Penn powers Central Dauphin and Cumberland Valley is a big reason behind District 3’s recent success.
Central Dauphin has won seven PIAA Class AAA team titles since 2007. This year’s Rams are ranked 20th nationally by Amateur Wrestling News. Cumberland Valley wrestled Central Dauphin for the 2009 PIAA Class AAA duals title. The Rams and Eagles have combined to produce 10 PIAA champions since 2006.
Both programs visited the North Gym this season. State College won a total of four bouts in the two duals. Losing 67-0 to Central Dauphin looks ugly on paper. But Dubin sees long-term benefits in facing one of the nation’s top programs.
“It alleviates the myth that this team has a reputation,” Dubin said. “We wrestle them, so you can tell the kids, ‘Hey, you know it’s just like any other team. You can’t back down.’ Anytime you wrestle a good team, it’s a win-win.”
Chambersburg and Mifflin County join Central Dauphin and Cumberland Valley in the Commonwealth Division’s top half. The Trojans and District 6 Huskies could qualify for next month’s PIAA team duals. Mifflin County also joined the Mid-Penn this season. The division’s top teams have exposed some of the Little Lions’ technical flaws.
“You can’t get away with the same type of technique that you get away with against a team that’s not as good,” Dubin said.
Competing in the Mid-Penn has illustrated differences between District 3 and 6 styles. Central Dauphin, for example, has flourished as a program by scoring points from the top position.
“They do different type of stuff on top,” Dubin said. “They have a different type of ride that we don’t see all the time. On their feet, teams are aggressive and move real good. They are very well-coached teams.”
State College, coincidentally, competes in two of the state’s top leagues. The Little Lions maintained their Big 7 ties through 2012-13. They end the season regular season by wrestling Central Mountain on Saturday and Bald Eagle Area on Feb. 7.
The BEA match was scheduled for Tuesday, but the schools agreed to push it back 16 days. BEA will likely play host to Philipsburg-Osceola in Tuesday’s opening round of the District 6 Class AAA team duals.
The change plugs a gap on State College’s schedule. The Little Lions have no events between the BEA meet and the District 6 Class AAA Championships, which begin Feb. 22 in Altoona.
Learning and flourishing
Every program could use a wrestler such as BEA junior David Gawryla, whose emergence gives the Eagles desirable flexibility within the strongest part of their lineup.
Gawryla weighs 197 pounds, which allows him to wrestle three weights: 195, 220 and 285. The Eagles are crowded up top, with state qualifiers Jake Taylor, Aaron Varner and Nate Sharkey wrestling from 182 to 220, and freshman Josh Fye rapidly developing at 285.
Before Fye entered the varsity lineup, Gawryla competed at 285 in the Top Hat and Manheim tournaments. Fye is a full-fledged heavyweight who placed fifth at the last weekend’s Escape the Rock Tournament.
“Some of my opponents were just too big at heavyweight,” Gawryla said. “I lost a couple; I won a couple.”
Gawryla should have no problem competing at an optimal weight next season. Taylor, Varner and Sharkey are seniors. Although their presence might prevent him from wrestling this postseason, Gawryla will miss the trio.
“I’m really grateful for the older guys,” he said. “Jake, Aaron and Sharkey. ...They are all bigger and they are all better. It helps me get better because I wrestle them every night. It’s a real nice thing to have.”
Earlier this week, Gawryla showed his potential by pinning P-O’s R.J. Kephart in a 195-pound bout. The pin contributed to the Eagles’ 39-25 victory.
Gawryla is 6-5 with five pins. He hasn’t lost a bout contested below the 285-pound weight class.
“He’s in with that mix of big guys that we have,” BEA coach Steve Millward said. “It’s not like he sits around. He fights every day when he goes down in our room.”
Off to New Oxford
P-O receives its biggest regular-season tournament test when it visits the New Oxford Invitational this weekend.
The Mounties won last month’s Brockway Big Dog Tournament and placed second at their own Mountaineer Tournament. District 3 teams litter the New Oxford field.
Chris Thompson (16-0, 106), Bryan Descavish (9-7, 120), Brian Evans (12-6, 126), Dallas Kephart (12-6, 132), Caleb Shively (14-4, 138), Justin Millard (13-7, 145), Andrew Greenawalt (10-3, 152), Jay Prentice (14-4, 170), Bub Lumadue (16-2, 182) and Nick Gray (15-5, 220) bring winning record into the event.
“We are going to see a little different style of wrestling, a lot of tilts and things like that,” P-O coach Tim McCamley said. “We are going to see what we can do. We don’t have a great tournament team with a bunch of superstar individuals, but I think we can place pretty high.”