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NTL WRESTLING: TOWANDA HAS HIGH EXPECTATIONS FOR 2023-2024 (2023-12-02)

BY CHRIS MANNING
Northern Tier Sports Report
After two years of rebuilding Towanda is an envious position - they have talent, youth, numbers, and experience, all the things that a coach could want to get back on top of the NTL and District IV.

“It’s very fun, very exciting,” said veteran coach Bill Sexton. “We started out with this group two years ago, this was the nucleus of our team as freshmen, and they got off to a good start in their high school careers. They built on that last year, and, I said to them on the first day of practice, ‘these should be the best two years of their careers.’ I mean, we still have only two seniors on our team.”


They bring back five 20 match winners - four of whom reached the Northeast Regional Tournament, the aforementioned two seniors, they had 40 kids in the mat room, and they return 12 of their 13 starters from a team that reached the top four at the District IV Duals a year ago.


They also bring in a bumper crop of freshmen from a junior high team that dominated the NTL for the past couple of seasons.


“These kids have wrestled for a long time,” Sexton remarked. “They wrestled all the way up through youth and elementary and had success, and they stuck together. They’re young in age but they’re not young in experience. They’ve been all over the state wrestling, they’ve wrestled at all levels, and now it’s time to do it in the varsity level.”


Leading the way on the mat will be state qualifier Mason Higley. Higley, who is coming in at 215 pounds, made it to the blood round of states last year at 172 pounds.


That’s been his motivation this off-season.


“I live on the mat,” he said. “It’s been 365 days since the Giant Center last year, and ever since then I’ve been thinking about going back.”


He had a banner sophomore year, finishing with over 30 wins on the season, which filled him with confidence and self belief.


“I just realized that I can compete as long as I stay mentally strong,” he remarked. “It’s so obviously a mental game, but also for motivation wise, there’s nothing more obliterating than losing in the state blood round, and it kind of killed me on the inside.”


He went all over the place to work with some of the best wrestlers in the state, and even the country, to prepare himself for this season.


Higley hopes it will translates to more offense on the mat.


“A lot more hand fighting, being aggressive, different set-ups, creating more angles,” he said. “I did a lot of straight shooting, which kind of killed me when I ran up against the top level guys. So just creating angles, and being strong in the hand fight.”


Also coming back is Riley Vanderpool, who just missed states a year ago.


He’s coming off a strong football season - one that saw Towanda finish with a winning record - but it takes a toll on the body.


“It’s kind of tough,” he said about going from football to wrestling. “You always get beat up.”


The junior plans to wrestle at 145 or 152, a small bump up from last year.


“Not much difference,” said Vanderpool. “Just stronger guys with more technique.”


Vanderpool typically uses his quickness on the mat, and he believes that will give him a big advantage at the heavier weights. 


“It gives me a lot of confidence,” he said. 


Sawyer Robinson was their lone district champion a year ago, winning the 189 pound weight class despite weighing in as a 172-pounder.


“It’s kind of scary, to be honest,” Robinson said about being a returning district champion. “I have expectations now.”


He’s been focusing on his offense in the offseason.


“If you score more points you can do more,” he remarked. 


No matter where he ends up Robinson feels he’ll be able to compete.


“I have confidence that I can wrestle in more places,” he said.


Regional qualifier Rylee Sluyter was stuck at a tough weight class last year, and plans on moving up to 139 pounds this year.


“It’s the same people over and over again,” Sluyter said.


Despite possibly being in another tough class Sluyter feels more prepared.


“I know in the past I’ve beaten them,” he said. “Or I know their weaknesses and strengths, and stuff like that.”


He’s hoping to get to states, too, and possibly getting on the podium.


“I’m going to have to work very hard,” Sluyter said. 


And it’s not just individual glory the wrestlers are going after.


“I think we have the absolute potential to be one of the best teams in the state,” said Higley. “I think it’s just going to come down to how bad we want it, and what we’re willing to give to get there.”


They’ve put together one of the toughest schedules in the district, featuring Warrior Run (D4 duals champions), Canton (D4 duals runners-up), Montoursville (D4 duals third place), Montgomery (D4 duals top six team), and, as always, Wyalusing.


“I don’t think there’s anybody in the district that isn’t unbeatable, and we’re not hiding from anybody,” Higley said. “We’re coming out, and we’re going to be someone who has a target on their back, and we’re going to be going after people with targets on their back.”


Ultimately, their goal is to get the PIAA Championship Duals down in Hershey.


“That’s our goal,” Sexton said. “It’s not going to be an easy thing to do. We still have a very good Canton team in our league. People are going to say, well, Canton graduated all those guys - yeah they did, but they have a lot of guys back there. They may sneak up on somebody this year, but they’re not sneaking up on us because we know the they have.”


He’s hoping their beefed up schedule - they also wrestle big schools out of New York, Horseheads and Corning - will pay dividends come the postseason.


“We’re going to know what we have to do to move on on our regular schedule, and then we’ll have to be ready at Milton,” said Sexton. “But that’s a long ways down the road, we’ll worry about that when we get to it.”


ROSTER (Grade)

Mason Harbst (10)

Curtis Maynard (9)

Jayden Stranger (9)

Anthony Rifenbark (10)

Tanner Vanderpool (10)

Justin McKean-Moore (11)

Bryghton Yale (10)

Carter Schoonover (9)

Jazick Brown (9)

Aiden Miller (11)

Brayden Spencer (9)

Wyatt Stranger (11)

Hayden Space (11)

Clinton Tuttle (9)

Mateo Perez (11)

Matt Harbst (10)

Jeremy Arrieta (11)

Rylee Sluyter (11)

Tahshon Garner (11)

Riley Vanderpool (11)

Kolten McPeak (9)

Charles Johnson (10)

Caleb Austin (10)

Dillon Sbraga (9)

Zachery McKean-Moore (12)

Jace Gunther (11)

Edan Flynn (11)

Chase Geurin (11)

Zayne McPeak (12)

Aiden Davidson (9)

Sawyer Robinson (11)

Tim Parker (12)

Chris Austin (12)

Mason Higley (11)

Domanick Walker (10)

Jevan Gunther (9)

Cameron Allis (9)

Tristan Conklin (11)

Blaize Nichols (9)

Gabriel Tenny (10)

Varrius Farrell (11)


SCHEDULE

Dec. 6 vs Troy, 7 p.m.

Dec. 14 at Horseheads, 7 p.m.

Dec. 16 hosts Dandy Duals, 11 a.m.

Dec. 19 vs NEB & Sayre, 7 p.m.

Dec. 21 vs Corning, 7 p.m.

Dec. 22 vs Central Columbia, 6 p.m.

Dec. 27 at Windsor Tournament

Dec. 28 at Windsor Tournament

Jan. 4 vs Warrior Run, 7 p.m.

Jan. 6 hosts Flynn Duals, 11 a.m.

Jan. 13 at Wellsboro, noon

Jan. 19 at Wyalusing, 7 p.m.

Jan. 23 at Athens, 7 p.m.

Jan. 24 at Canton, 7 p.m.

Jan. 26 at West Branch, noon

Jan. 27 at West Branch, 9 a.m.

Feb. 17 at Sectionals

Feb. 23 at Districts

Feb. 24 at Districts

Mar 1 at Regionals

Mar 2 at Regionals




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