The match with Bald Eagle Area's Jacob Taylor had been a year in the making for Muncy's Troy Hembury. He had hoped to wrestle Taylor a year ago at the Top Hat coming off winning his first state medal.
It never happened, though. Hembury injured his knee in a semifinal loss to Central Mountain's Nathaniel Powers and he never got the chance to test just where he was in his ascension to one of the state's top wrestlers. He finally got that chance to test himself Saturday night during the 39th Top Hat tournament at Williamsport High School.
It didn't end as the Muncy senior had hoped, but he pointed out afterward that the result of the match wasn't really what he was all that concerned about. Even after winning his second consecutive state medal a year ago, wrestling Taylor - a returning Class AAA bronze medalist - was still about measuring where he was at.
Muncy’s Troy Hembury, left, wrestles Bald Eagle Area’s Jacob Taylor during the 182-pound final at the Top Hat tournament on Saturday.
Through the better part of five minutes of their match, Hembury and Taylor were dead even. They were tied at 1-1, trading escapes as they got into the final minute of the 182-pound matchup. It was there that a penalty point for an illegal hold on Hembury gave Taylor the decisive point.
Hembury thought about the match after the tournament had finished and decided he was OK with the outcome. His goal was to measure where he was with his wrestling, and even though he didn't win, he saw all he needed to.
"I'm right there with him," said Hembury, who recently committed to wrestle at Columbia next year. "I would much rather have lost the way I did then go out there and pin a fish. With Muncy being a small school we don't get the big matches like that. And that's a kid going to Cornell to wrestle Division I next year."
Hembury made sure to preface his statements with the fact that had it happened in the state tournament he likely would have been fuming. But he's been around enough as a four-year starter for the Indians to know where this weekend's bouts fall in the realm of a season and the ultimate goal of winning a state championship.
It's why he was so willing to let go of the controversial call, which head coach Denny Harer discussed with the official for a couple minutes before it became official. Also, Hembury was dealing with the same injury to the same knee he suffered against Powers a year ago after a training mishap with his brother Ryan.
When the two were working out recently - Ryan is a sophomore wrestler at George Mason University - Ryan fell awkwardly onto Troy's left knee, and both heard the same pop that occurred when Troy was injured a year ago.
Troy wrestled this weekend with a heavy black brace protecting his left knee.
"I don't think I'm 100 percent yet with my knee, so it's nice to see I'm at a high level still," Hembury said. "I would have loved to have won, but it doesn't matter, it's not the state tournament. It is what it is and I'll probably work out with him before the postseason and hopefully we both win state championships."
Hembury has an opportunity to become the first three-time state placewinner in Muncy history this year with another top 8 finish at the state tournament. So losing in his first and only trip to the Top Hat finals didn't have much of a bearing on the senior.
"The only tournament I want to win is states," he said.
Andrew Gipe stepped off the second-place spot on the podium hidden in the corner of the Magic Dome hiding his emotions. It took some coaxing but a smile finally crept across the South Williamsport senior's face.
Maybe he didn't quite want to admit it, but he was happy with how he performed during the first tournament of the season. He finished second for the second consecutive year, and it was good enough for him.
Gipe has bigger plans than winning the Top Hat for his senior season, so his concern was more about wrestling well for two days. It was a goal he accomplished.
"I just wanted to go out and do my best and take it one match at a time," Gipe said. "I wanted to get to the finals and I lost that one, but I gave it my best."
Gipe put together a great tournament which included a stellar 5-3 win over Montoursville freshman Keith Batkowski on Friday night. Batkowski came back after that loss to finish third at 126 pounds. As the top seed at 126 pounds, Gipe won his first three matches by a combined score of 30-8, including a 16-3 win over Jersey Shore's Colton Killion in the semifinals.
He wrestled well in the final but came up a point short of beating Penfield (N.Y.) seventh-grader Frankie Gissendanner in the 126-pound final. Gissendanner made a brilliant run through the tournament as a 12-year old, winning two of his first three bouts in overtime before beating Gipe.
"He was pretty good at just keeping me down on top and trapping my arm so I couldn't really use it," Gipe said. "He's a solid kid. It was tough trying to get out."
Gipe is hoping to build off his success from the football season where he was a starting cornerback for a South Williamsport team which finished second in District 4 in Class A. Despite the quick turnaround from football to wrestling, Gipe said he was ready to make a run for his first state wrestling tournament.
He's a three-time regional qualifier and a one-time regional fourth-place finisher. So although his second-place finish may not have been ideal Saturday, he couldn't have been happier with wrestling well.
"I'm happy, but I'm still hungry to keep wrestling hard," Gipe said. "And next time I'll do better."
The youth shall lead
Two local freshmen put together a great first impression as varsity wrestlers this weekend, both finishing third in their respective weight classes at the Top Hat. Muncy's Angelo Barberio advanced to the semifinals at 106 pounds before dropping to the consolation bracket and winning a pair of bouts to take third.
Montoursville's Keith Batkowski had maybe the most impressive tournament for any freshman, winning four consecutive bouts in the consolation bracket to take third at 126 pounds. Batkowski, the younger brother of former Warrior two-time state placewinner David Batkowski, suffered a 5-3 loss to Gipe in the 126-pound quarterfinals, but showed what kind of level he's capable of wrestling at.
He won his first consolation bout by fall before beating Central Columbia regional qualifier Lewis Williams, 3-1, and Schuylkill Valley 20-match winner Tanner White, 3-1. Batkowski beat Line Mountain's Colton Zimmerman, a 2011 South Section champion, 1-0, in the third-place bout.
Barberio came into Muncy with quite the pedigree as a junior high wrestler and responded after being pinned by Jersey Shore regional qualifier Noah Ulmer in the 106-pound semifinals. He picked up a fall in the consolation semifinals before picking up an overtime victory, 10-8, to take third place.