High School Sports

High School wrestling: Bald Eagle Area’s Jake Taylor eyes state gold

As he approaches adulthood, Bald Eagle Area’s Jake Taylor has learned a soothing lesson about the human body.

Even the strongest ones need rest.

After finishing third at last year’s PIAA Class AAA Championships, Taylor altered his training cycles, trimming the frequency and length of workouts. The results are startling.

A rejuvenated Taylor enters his senior season as a state-title contender built to withstand the rigors of a Pennsylvania winter.

“I think at the beginning of my varsity career I sort of went way too hard, way too many days a week,” he said. “By the end of the season, I was sort of drained. It wasn’t showing on the mat what I was doing in the room. It really wasn’t worth the effort for what I was getting out of it.”

This past off-season demonstrated the value of shrewd training. Following his run in Hershey, which ended a 38-2 season, Taylor spent a few weeks away from wrestling. He used the time to examine flaws — in his case, there are few — before last spring’s Flonationals at Drexel University. Taylor won the 170-pound bracket and quickly took another self-mandated break.

He trained regularly throughout the summer, but strayed from competing in ultra-intense events. An offensive-minded wrestler, Taylor said improving his handfighting and tactics from the neutral position were summer objectives.

Taylor took another break in September. His focused then shifted toward the Super 32 Challenge, a two-day event regarded as the nation’s top preseason tournament.

A late October trip to Greensboro, N.C., isn’t the ideal senior journey. But Taylor relishes big tournaments and wanted to gauge his progress against a stacked field.

Six victories against wrestlers from six different states later, Taylor returned home with the championship belt. Winning the title helped Taylor ascend to No. 4 at 182 pounds in InterMat’s national rankings.

Taylor received plenty of help along the way. He trained last spring and summer with former Penn State wrestler and assistant coach Dave Hart at the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. But, again, Taylor limited the volume of his training.

Staying away from a practice room isn’t easy for Taylor, who ditched football after his sophomore to focus on wrestling. To fill idle time, he worked on a summer landscaping crew with Bellefonte’s Leo Wortman and Nick Shawley. Taylor also lifted weights throughout the spring, summer and fall.

“There’s no point in being in the room for more than a couple of months at a time if you are going hard,” he said. “You don’t have to wrestle 12 months. You can do three months on, a month off and stuff like that. It’s just trying to work hard for a short amount of time while getting everything in.”

The approach resembles the one implemented by many successful college wrestlers and coaches, a group Taylor will join next fall.

Division-I coaches started becoming aware of Taylor when he reached the state tournament as a sophomore. He enhanced his stock by finishing 38-2 last season. Glowing academic transcripts further increased interest in Taylor.

He took an enjoyable unofficial visit to Cornell last spring. He made a return trip in the summer. The Ivy League school offered what he wanted: a blend of high-level academics and championship wrestling. The Big Red, who are coached by State College High School graduate Rob Koll, have produced 34 All-Americans and eight nationals champions in the past eight years.

Former State College star Steve Bosak is one of Koll’s recent national champions. Bosak’s younger brother, Scott, also wrestles for the Big Red.

Taylor selected Cornell over Harvard, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Lehigh and Pitt. Cornell, coincidentally, has a reputation of cautiously training athletes.

“I loved the coaches, I loved the campus, I loved the program, I loved what they were doing, how they were performing and Coach Koll’s whole philosophy on running a program,” Taylor said.

Taylor anchors a BEA program looking to return to its District 6 perch. Coach Steve Millward said there’s no better example for the district’s young wrestlers than Taylor, who’s aiming to become the Eagles’ first state champ since Quentin Wright won his second title in 2008.

“Jake earns it,” Millward said. “He was doing the right things even before last season. He puts the time in. He does all the right things. He’s smart about his training. He has worked up to this point. I’m excited to be along for the trip.”