Zephs advance two to Northeast Regionals
In a darkened wrestling room at Whitehall High School, Brad Schuler was busy pedaling the stationary bike in the corner, while Joey Gladish was on the mat shadow wrestling.
Wrestling is often a solitary pursuit, with each man preparing to go it alone against an opponent in the circle.
As they both settled into their daily routines inside the Zephyr wrestling room, these two solitary figures shared a common objective. They both want to represent Whitehall High School at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Individual Wrestling Championships next month.
After securing a trip to this week's Northeast AAA Regional Tournament at Liberty High School's Memorial Gym beginning Feb. 27, Schuler and Gladish are looking forward to the opportunity of achieving their preseason goals.
Schuler's trip to the Northeast Regionals started last weekend when he reeled off four wins in his 182 weight class to earn third place at the District XI Individual Wrestling Championships. His lone loss came against eventual winner Jake Jakobsen from Stroudsburg High School. Over the two days, Schuler recorded a fall, technical fall and two decisions to capture the bronze.
Gladish's road was marked by a bit of déjà vu as he faced Bethlehem Catholic's Brandon Blobe twice during his run through the 195 bracket. He defeated the Golden Hawk 4-2 in overtime in their first bout. In their second encounter for third place, Blobe came out on top, 4-2. It was the third meeting between the pair in less than a week as the Zephs closed out their regular season against the Golden Hawks.
Additionally, Gladish only lost 3-1 to eventual champ John Callahan of Freedom, succumbing by just a margin of four points in both bouts he lost.
Along the way he recorded a fall over Nathan Feyrer of Parkland and a 7-2 decision over Kevin Alpaugh from East Stroudsburg South.
The Zephs had another place winner at the D-11 tourney as Robert Tully finished 6th at 152. The senior had arguably the toughest weight class among all the competitors, but still managed to win three matches en route to the podium. He earned that trip by wrestling back to meet Stroudsburg's Shane Jones in the fifth-place match, eventually losing 8-2.
Schuler, a senior, had his mind set on advancing to the PIAA tourney throughout his final season as a Zephyr. He knows the trip to the Northeast Regional is the first steppingstone, and it came with a lot of hard work.
"I'm proud of myself because I didn't make it to regionals any other year," said Schuler. "So this year is the first time I get to see the new competition, and I'm very excited about that."
Standing on the podium at the conclusion of his weight class at districts was a special moment.
"It was a good feeling having coach [Cunningham] put a medal around my neck for the first time," said Schuler. "Only six guys got to do it that day, so it was pretty special."
Schuler wanted to make sure he wrestled to his full potential at districts, and came into the tourney with that mindset.
"I don't know what the future is like for my wrestling career, so I wanted to make sure I did that," he said.
Gladish knew his consolation match against Blobe wasn't going to be easy. The Hawk was looking for some revenge against the talented Zephyr who had twice beaten him.
"He's a really tough competitor, especially in D-11, and I'm sure he'll make some noise in regionals," said Gladish. "I'm sure it's not the last time I'll see him."
Gladish admitted he was a little disappointed in his fourth-place finish.
"I expected to see myself in the finals," he said. "You have a lot of tough guys here in District 11 and sometimes you don't always get to fulfill everything you wanted to do."
His goal now is to make it out of the regional round and advance to the state tournament.
Head coach Tim Cunningham understands the difficulty in facing someone that frequently.
"It's tough beating a guy three times in a row, period, in a year, let alone in five days," said Cunningham. "It's real difficult."
But that experience could have a silver lining. Cunningham said the coaching staff learned a few things from that match Gladish needed to work on, something they implemented yesterday.
Gladish may face Blobe again and what he learned from his last match may prove valuable.
Cunningham said that the Northeast tourney provides a steppingstone for both wrestlers in their ultimate quest to reach states.
"We knew you have to take it one tournament at a time, one match at a time. One period at a time," said Cunningham. "We broke it down that way. This week we're working on the little things and we're going two minutes at a time, two minutes at a time. Don't look ahead."
Whitehall wound up finishing 13th at districts with 48.5 points. Other wrestlers making it out of the first round were Noah Rex at 113 and Tyler Schaffer at 132.
It was an impressive showing again for the Zephs at the D-11 tourney.
"Overall, each and every guy went there and wrestled to the best of their ability," said Cunningham. "They worked on little things for the last three weeks.
"I think it started off with our performance against Bethlehem Catholic. I know we only won two matches, but every guy went out and wrestled real well and then carried it through the tournament."