WILKES-BARRE — For the second year in a row, Tommy Traver found himself in the most exciting final of the District 2 Class 3A Championships.
Unlike last year for the Tunkhannock 132-pounder, Saturday turned out to be a much better experience. For the most part.
Traver, a returning state qualifier, was nearly pinned by Coughlin’s Jake Brown in the third period, exciting the near-capacity crowd at the Kingston Armory, before ending the match with a 17-5 major decision to claim his first district title.
“I’m not sure exactly what happened there because it happened so quick. Maybe not enough hand control,” Traver said. “Next thing I knew the whistle blew and I was on my back fighting off.”
Traver took a 10-point lead into the third period over Brown, who started the period on top. Mere seconds into the third, Brown locked Traver in a cradle and had him in trouble. Coughlin wrestlers standing near the mat erupted and hundreds of people focused on the mat looking for a pin.
“I panicked a little bit. I knew I had a big lead and I just had to get off my back and continue scoring points,” Traver said.
Just then, Brown tried to tighten the hold for a pin, but when he did that. Traver found a way to turn out and avoid the fall before winning via major decision.
“I kept feeling his weight changing and his lock changing,” Traver said. “And eventually I was finally able to break the lock and get my head out, and then that’s when right away I knew I had to get out of there. It was a good match overall for both of us.”
While Brown finished shy of winning the gold for the Crusaders, his teammate Darren Clarke made a little history.
Clarke, a freshman, won the 120-pound gold medal beating Scranton’s Bobby Zelinski 5-3 in the final. In winning the gold, Clarke became the first freshman from Coughlin to win a district title since Justin Accordino in 2004. Accordino ended as a four-time district champion and a three-time state qualifier.
Like Accordino did so many times, Clarke won his first two matches with ease via major decision and technical fall before getting challenged in the final.
“I wasn’t really expecting (a district title) coming in, but it’s awesome finally getting it,” Clarke said. “He was a really good wrestler so to be mentioned with him is pretty cool.”
Joining Traver and Clarke as first-time district champions from the Wyoming Valley Conference were Tunkhannock’s David Evans at 106 and Dallas’ Shawn Henninger at 285. Evans defeated Delaware Valley’s Joe Porco by decision in the first final of the afternoon. Henninger capped the tournament with a 3-0 victory over top-seeded David DeGroat from Wallenpaupack.
“I worked hard with coach (Mike) Richards in the summer and right now it’s just a shock, but it all finally came together winning it,” Henninger said. “Last year, I came in and took third and it didn’t go as planned. This year I came in knew I had a tough bracket and never thought I’d be here. It’s unbelievable.”
Henninger and teammate Steven Newell, who won his second D2 gold in as many years, helped the Mountaineers finish second in the team race. It’s the first time Dallas finished as high as second in the district tournament since winning the Class 2A championship in 2011.
The Mountaineers came out of nowhere and finished a distant second to Delaware Valley, which was more than 60 points in front of the pack. Hazleton Area took third, while Coughlin and Tunkhannock rounded out the top five. Dallas placed fourth in Division 1 of the WVC during the dual season, but improved drastically this weekend.
“I honestly didn’t expect that. I was pleasantly surprised by that,” Newell said about the team’s performance. “Our team had some tough losses throughout the year. Dallas is known for coming back and performing in the postseason and that’s what we did.”
Newell wasn’t the only WVC grappler to repeat as champion. Wyoming Valley West junior David Krokowski joined an elite group by winning his third district title at 126. His teammate, J.J. White, a sophomore claimed the gold at 113. Hazleton Area’s Shane Noonan won his second straight championship at 195. Noonan defeated Wallenpaupack’s Tyler Neglia in the district final for the second straight season.
Krokowski won twice by tech fall in the tournament and won his final over Machias Magill from Delaware by major decision.
Even though he won with ease and it was his third title, Krokowski still felt nerves until the final buzzer sounded.
“Every time for the finals it’s the same feeling, you get those butterflies in your stomach,” Krokowski said. “But it’s always a good feeling at the end.”
White defeated Crestwood’s Trey Zabroski by technical fall early in the third period. The only time he was tested in the tournament was in his semifinal bout against Preston Machado from Delaware Valley winning by a 4-0 score.
Now, that the district title is out of the way, White, like all of the regional qualifiers, is focused on getting past tough District 11 opponents and moving on to the PIAA Championships.
“We have to work harder, drill harder and train harder to get past District 11,” White said. “They’re a bunch of hammers down there.”
A total of 31 WVC wrestlers qualified for next weekend’s Northeast Regional Tournament at Bethlehem’s Liberty High School. Action starts on Friday at 4:30 p.m.
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