It was evident nearly a year ago there had to be a change at Williamson. The Warriors saw the building blocks to a great team being set.
But as strong as the base blocks were for the Warriors, there was something missing. It was the pink elephant in the room.
With a base of state placewinner Logan Everett, state qualifier Tyrus Hamblin and district champion Billy Barnes mixed with the likes of Carl Gorg, Trevor McWhorter and Herman Briggs, Williamson had a run of wrestlers that would clearly rival any team's in District 4. But that something missing was balance to the lineup.
The Warriors just weren't getting the same production from the top of their lineup as they were the bottom. R.C. Hunter and Mark Brennan both qualified for the district tournament, but the Warriors didn't have that presence in the top of the lineup which could not only be counted on for wins, but bonus-point wins, the way they could with the lighter portion of the lineup.
But knowing that lightweight portion of the lineup was returning this year, the likes of Hunter, Brennan and Michael Presto vowed to make a change.
"They were there after school from the day sectionals ended until the day school ended wrestling," Everett said. "It's showing. It's all about getting everyone tip-top for the postseason. We're definitely going in the right direction, I think."
Williamson has asserted itself as a team that has to be in the conversation for one of the three spots District 4 has for the PIAA Duals tournament next month. And it's done so by showing balance in its lineup this year. It's still an area of concern for the Warriors just to how consistent those wrestlers from 160 pounds to 285 pounds can be, but everyone seems to agree they've made a positive progression this year.
"We need those other guys to carry us through," Everett said. "They've been working hard. We realize our lightweights were going to be OK and our heavyweights were going to need to step it up. They noticed it, too, and they've been doing it. It's obviously going to be tougher when we see some tougher competition, but hopefully we'll be able to pull some out."
Williamson has allowed 30 points in dual meet five times this year, but has lost just two of those matches. But in those five matches, the Warriors have gone just 8-20 from the six weight classes from 160-285. Sixteen of those 20 losses have come by fall and also include a technical fall and a major decision.
In a 51-18 loss to District 4 favorite Central Columbia in the first two weeks of the season, those six weight classes went 2-4 with all four losses by fall. On the same day, in a loss to District 2 favorite Western Wayne, the Warriors went 0-6 in those weight classes.
"A couple of them aren't quite where we thought they might be. But for the most part, they're doing very well," Williamson head coach Mark Everett said. "So far Mark Brennan has 13 wins and is doing really well. R.C. is right there with 12 wins. Mike Presto at 60 has come a long way. All those guys give us an opportunity to stay in a match, whereas before we had our tough kids and then we were in trouble. But now it's not that way. Those guys can hold their own. That's what we want."
Nobody is expecting the group of upperweights to go out and score 36 points a night for the Warriors. Instead they need to wrestle smart, try to stay off their back, and get wins when the opportunity presents itself. The six wrestlers who competed from 160-285 in Thursday's win over North Penn have a combined record of 45-38 this year for a .542 winning percentage.
The other eight starters for the Warriors had a combined 108-25 record (.812 winning percentage) coming into the weekend's Red Jacket Invitational tournament. The Warriors have enough hammers in the lineup that they should be in the conversation with the likes of Benton, Central Columbia and Warrior Run as the top dual-meet teams in District 4. But being able to beat those teams is where the real question lies.
Mark Everett said he kind of expected the Warriors' lopsided loss to Central Columbia at the Towanda Duals in December, and he lauded the Blue Jays' depth and balance. But both he and Logan Everett said if a couple close losses go the other way they're right in the thick of the dual.
The Warriors also matched up head-to-head with Warrior Run in 11 weight classes at the Newport Tournament two weeks ago. Williamson won six of those 11 bouts for what would have been 27 team points in a dual-meet setting. Warrior Run's five wins totaled 18 points. The only weights the two teams didn't matchup in were 106, 195 and 285 pounds, all three of which the Defenders would probably be favored. But keep in mind six of the 11 bouts were won by decision and none by more than five points.
The matchup which could pose the most problems would be against a Benton team whose strength is almost identical to the Warriors' in the lightweights. The Tigers feature three state placewinners in that stretch and two Division I recruits that could make for some interesting individual matchups.
"We got our work cut out for us. Everything has to fall in line," Mark Everett said. "But we did alright head-to-head with Warrior Run. Not saying we got the better of them at all, but we did alright. If we try to get the matchups and win the flip to choose some of the matches we want, good things can happen for us."
The Warriors have made those good things possible with the work they've put in within the last year.
MAKING A CHARGE
North Penn's Nathan Kriner was maybe the biggest surprise finalist in the District 4 tournament a year ago. He was a junior coming off a season in which he was a district qualifier but had never really been considered a threat to win a district championship until he found himself in the finals against eventual state champion Nazar Mironenko of Mifflinburg.
It's been a bit of a different season this year for the North penn senior. He's got a top-10 state ranking and is maybe the most heralded wrestler on a program with plenty of up-and-coming talent.
Kriner is 9-2 this year following a win against Williamson on Thursday. And those two losses have come to quality opponents. He lost to Chestnut Ridge's Austin Buttry at the Randy Zigarski tournament in Mount Carmel, 4-2. Buttry is ranked fifth in Class AA and is coming off a 33-win season.
He also lost by pin to Coughlin's Brad Emerick, a returning PIAA Class AAA fifth-place finisher who is currently ranked third in AAA.
"We just have to find a way to win those matches," North Penn head coach Craig Pequignot said Thursday. "It's probably going to keep him in check and keep him working."
THE FUTURE IS NOW
When Warrior Run's Zack LeBarron wrestled Muncy's Angelo Barberio on Tuesday night it was a match that has been waiting to be wrestled on the stage it was for a couple years now. The two have met each other through their junior high careers and even in PJW tournaments, but Tuesday was their first opportunity to square off on the varsity stage, and they both deserved the ovation they got from the fans after a 6-2 win for LeBarron.
Barberio was the aggressor in the match, getting deep on LeBarron's leg numerous times through the bout, but was never able to finish a takedown attempt. LeBarron, a long and lanky wrestler, used that length to his strength in being able to scramble out of those takedown attempts and grab an ankle or a knee and reverse the action to score his own points or force a stalemate.
"He does have that long range, but he has more going for him than that," Warrior Run head coach Wayne Smythe said. "He has the heart of a champion, and that's big."
It was clear by the time LeBarron and Barberio took the mat the dual-meet's outcome had all but been clinched, but both benches and the fans seemed to add a little extra energy to the bout. It was an effort by two state-ranked freshman that was worthy of a regional tournament or even state tournament stage. And to see it in early January was just a treat for all in attendance.
"I was actually really excited for (LeBarron)," Warrior Run's Nick Rohm said. "To me, it was the biggest match. A lot of us get really excited for a match like that."
WRESTLER OF THE WEEK
Robert White, Hughesville
White may be the best wrestler you're not paying attention to at this point of the season. The Hughesville junior is now 16-4 after a 5-0 performance this week and has now won 12 bouts in a row for the Spartans. White has climbed to second in the regional rankings at 170 pounds behind only Warrior Run's Dan Breech and he's even made an appearance in the state rankings, coming in at 21st at 170. All this despite wrestling 16 of his 20 bouts this year at 182 pounds, and not even having hit 169 pounds on any of his weigh-ins this year.
CAN'T-MISS MATCH OF THE WEEK
Jersey Shore Duals, Saturday
This is always a must-see event when you take into consideration the caliber of teams which participate. But add in the fact that Warrior Run head coach Wayne Smythe will have the opportunity to win his 500th career dual meet and it becomes can't miss. Smythe is sixth in state history with 496 career wins and would become just the fourth active head coach with at least 500 wins, joining Ridley's Carl Schnellenbach (738), Danville's Ron Kanaskie (664) and Towanda's Bill Sexton (553).