BENTON - Ryan Solomon and Brooks Black walked separately from the wrestling room at Benton High School into the gymnasium, knowing their match was about 5 minutes away. Both looked like they had already wrestled a meat-grinder of match, with sweat pouring down their faces.
In fact, they pretty much had. Solomon, Milton's reigning 195-pound PIAA wrestling champion, wasn't going to waste any of his time Sunday that he had to work out with Blair Academy's Black, the nation's top-ranked heavyweight.
Neither Solomon nor Black get a workout partner quite like the one each had Sunday. So in the spare time during a scrimmage between Blair Academy and the Benton Tiger Wrestling Club, Black and Solomon were in the practice room drilling or wrestling live. And when the time came, they wrestled a 6-minute match in the gym in front of coaches and fans with a scoreboard and official.
The result - a 3-2 win for Solomon - wasn't really all that important. Black weighed about 255 pounds and Solomon was at about 210, and Black clearly didn't lean on Solomon with all his weight like he could have. The workout the two got Sunday was far more important than who won or lost, and both left the gym satisfied with what they got.
"He's top of the line. He's one of the best in the country, I don't get that caliber of kid a lot," Solomon said. "We were working out back before we came out as much as we could. He said he didn't get a lot of partners either. When you get that kind of kid (to work out with), you want to get as much work in as you can."
Blair Academy, the nation's top-ranked high school wrestling team, was invited to wrestle at the BTWC after Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to the Blair Academy campus. The BTWC was scheduled to go out to Blair - located in Blairstown, N.J. - for a preseason tournament, but with the havoc caused by last week's hurricane, they decided they couldn't host the tournament.
So with the backing of the Benton school district administration to use Benton's facilities, Russ Hughes invited Blair and head coach Charles Danhof out to train. The session was basically run like a tournament with two mats. The coaches from both sides paired up wrestlers of like weight and ability for more than 40 matches worth of high-quality wrestling.
"To get out and see somebody else is big for our guys," Danhof said. "We've always had a great relationship with Benton in season and out of season, and it was great of Russ to invite us out here. It's a great opportunity. To scrimmage with a club like Benton's with all their quality guys is perfect for our team."
The BTWC featured wrestlers such as Solomon and Ryan Preisch from Milton, Angelo Barberio of Muncy, Zack Heeter of Midd-West, Kent Lane of Southern Columbia, as well as state placewinners Colt Cotten, Zain Retherford, Jeric Kasunic and Matt Welliver from Benton.
In fact, in Benton's gym yesterday there were five wrestlers who have already committed to Division I college programs for next year - Cotten to Bloomsburg, Retherford to Penn State, Solomon to Pittsburgh, Black to Illinois and Russell Parsons to Army. The room also featured a world champion, Pennsylvania state champions, Fargo national champions, and prep national champions.
"There's a lot of talent in there," Preisch said. "If you're not here, you're missing out."
Preisch said the day was fun even if he didn't get the results he was quite looking for. But like Solomon and Black, he understands the day wasn't about the results, it was about the work.
The Milton junior, coming off a season in which he was a state qualifier, lost his second bout of the day to Parsons, 9-0. Preisch took the match as a learning experience, which was exactly the point of the day.
"I don't see how a tough match can't help," Preisch said. "Parsons is real good, and I wrestled tough, just not good enough. I have a long way to go, but when you get the tough matches in, you'll get better."
"Blair needed this and we needed this competition," said Benton head coach Russ Hughes. "It was a win-win for everybody, the fans included. There's some valuable things to learn from wrestling the number one team in the country."