LOCK HAVEN - It was a long day of wrestling with the usual bumps and bruises along the way as the Sixth Annual Mat Town Open tournament unfolded here Saturday at Thomas Field House.
There were no team scores kept, but Lock Haven turned in a good performance as the Bald Eagles came up with sixteen placewinners that included champions in Matt Bonson (141) and Fred Garcia (184) as well as runners-up Owen Wilkinson (149) and Dan Neff (UNA-141).
"We are making some technical improvements, but we have to get mentally tougher in some areas," said LHU head coach Robbie Waller. "If we can do that, we will be a better team next week than we are now."
If there is a primary concern for Waller at this point of the season, it might be with the nagging injuries that keep finding their way into the LHU camp.
"Afford is the key word," said Waller. "We can't afford many injuries because we aren't deep enough to have the resources of three or four guys at each weight. When one of our good guys, one of our starters goes down, that creates a hole. All you can do is plug (the hole) as best you can, try to put a guy out there who is going to fight and move forward."
Bonson went 4-0 for his title, showing a pair of major decisions and a 7-0 shutout along the way. In the finals, the former Lewistown High standout was to face teammate Dan Neff, but Neff is nursing an injury and it was decided to have Bonson take a medical forfeit from his teammate. For Bonson, it was his second Mat Town title.
"It would have been nice to have a match in the finals, but Neff needs to get healthy," said Bonson. "There is no sense in risking a worse injury by having him wrestle again."
After suffering his only loss of the season thus far in last weekend's Body Bar Tournament at Cornell University, Bonson had his sights set on dominating opponents in the Mat Town. Picking up a pair of major decisions and a 7-0 shutout, consider his mission completed."
"Up at Cornell at the Body Bar, I had a little setback in the semis," said Bonson. "I didn't wrestle the way I wanted to up there. I had a good week of practice and I wanted to come in here and dominate whoever I wrestled and for the most part I did that. In my second match (7-0 win), the kid (Matt Hicks) was just trying to keep it close and he did a good job of that. That seems to be Bloomsburg's game plan so that in the dual meet, they don't give up bonus points. I just have to figure out a way to extend that lead."
Wilkinson wrestled like a young man possessed as he won his first three bouts all by falls, picking up the three deck jobs in a cumulative time of 9:24. In the finals, Wilkinson faced returning All-American of Derek Valenti, wrestling unattached out of the University of Virginia, and just came up a little short in his bid for a title when he dropped a 3-2 decision.
In the finals, bout Wilkinson fell behind 3-0, but battled back with a pair of points in the final period before just missing a takedown at the final buzzer that would have put him over the hump.
"I had a good shot at the end, but I just ran out of time," said Wilkinson. "I committed to that shot and I almost got it. If I commit earlier in my matches, I will have a better chance (of scoring). It is a hard thing to have to wrestle from behind, especially at this level. Even a two-point lead is a pretty good lead at the college level because we wrestle the best kids. He (Valenti) is a returning All-American so when he got the two-point lead, he wasn't about to let it go."
Not awed by his opponent, Wilkinson was in deep in a couple of single leg shots in the first period, but Valenti was able to fight him off both times to keep it scoreless.
"We talked about it earlier that he was tough to score on," said Wilkinson. "I feel like if I would have committed more often, I could have ended up getting in (on his legs)."
Wilkinson advanced to the finals with three pins, and although he has not been known as a pinner, he admitted that he wants to be more dominant on top. If he can do that, who knows what can happen.
"I have a few pins in college and the last couple of years, I have been focusing on turns and turks to build leads and break kids," he said. "Today I was able to transfer my turns into falls. If I can get the match over early, that is good. This year we (LHU) have a lot of young guys so the more points we (veterans) can score, it will help us out a lot in dual meets."
The third finalist and second champion for the Bald Eagles emerged at 184 when sophomore Fred Garcia made a first-period takedown stand up for a 2-0 nod over John Bolich wrestling unattached from Lehigh University.
"I am happy that I won, but I don't think it was my best tournament," said Garcia. "I have a lot of things to improve on, but I won and I guess that is what is important. Usually my strength is on bottom, but I have been working on it (riding) the past couple of weeks to make sure that my skills are there."
After finishing fourth in the Body Bar and first in Mat Town, Garcia just wants to keep things moving ahead.
"I had a pretty good weekend last weekend and I just keep trying to get the wins," he said. "I just have to work hard in practice so that I can reach my goals to help the team."
Following the tournament, LHU head coach Robbie Walker offered his thoughts on the performance of his three finalists.
"I think that early season loss (last week in the Body Bar) could have helped or hurt him, but he took it the right way," said Waller about Bonson. "If you are willing to learn from it, it can be a good learning tool, and if you do that, you'll get better instantaneously."
"The only losses Owen (Wilkinson) has had the last two weekends have been to two returning All-Americans by one point each," continued Waller. "We have to win some of those matches and by the end of the year, I think he'll do that. He has a great attitude, his work ethic is great and he does everything right off the mat as well. Owen will be a guy at the national tournament who will surprise some people."
"First Open Tournament title for Freddie (Garcia) is a great thing," Waller added. "He is a guy who never went to the state tournament (in high school) so you can see the improvement in him. He comes in here and wins an Open(championship). He is another guy who if he gets to the national tournament, could become an All-American if he gets better and better each week and right now, he is doing that."
In addition to the four finalists, the remaining twelve placewinners was a group that included Robert Rehm, third at 125; Colton Dalberth, fourth at 125; John Trumbetti, sixth at 125; Evan Kolb, fifth at 133; Jonathan Childress, sixth at 133; Matthew Martoccio, sixth at 149 (UNA); Jake Kemerer, third at 157; Aaron Fry, sixth at 157; Dylan Caprio, sixth at 165; Aaron McKinney, fourth at 174; Chris White, sixth at 197 and Harry Turner, third at 285.
Penn College took a big step as the Wildcats ventured into the tournament that includes mostly Division I wrestlers and came away one placewinner in Cameron Price who finished sixth at 184.
Four former area wrestlers, three from Central Mountain and one from Jersey Shore, participated in the tournament.
Tyler Buckwalter, wrestling unattached out of Kent State, went 3-2 and placed fourth at 165; Dylan Caprio (LHU) finished 2-2 and was sixth at 165; Zach Corl (LHU) went 1-2 at 285 and did not place as was the case for former Jersey Shore Bulldog Scott Mason (LHU), who also went 1-2 at 285, but finished out of the money.
The Bald Eagles will return to dual meet action Saturday when they entertain the Michigan State Spartans in Thomas Field House. First whistle for that dual meet is set for High Noon.