Behind The Scenes At Fargo

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There is so much going on in Fargo that one person can’t possible take in everything that goes over the course of several days at the Freestyle National Tournament, especially when you’re trying to focus on Cadets and Juniors for both boys and girls.

And, even all of the things that I saw, I didn’t have the time to write about during four jam-packed days at the Fargodome. There were a lot of interesting things that happened that just didn’t fit into the stories that I wrote.

With that being said, here are a few behind-the-scenes moments that stood out this year:

Highs and lows

Undoubtedly, the low point of the freestyle tournament for Team PA was seeing Sun Valley’s Hunter Catka sitting on the mat, distraught and in obvious pain after breaking his ankle while scoring the final takedown in an easy technical fall victory. Catka already has a PIAA on his resume, and there’s a good chance he would have added a big stop sign – or possibly two – to his collection if not for the injury.

Thankfully, Catka also was around for the high point a day later in Fargo. Using crutches, Catka made his way on to the stage to celebrate Pennsylvania’s Cadet team title with his coaches and teammates.

After the ceremony, I told him how much it sucked that he didn’t get a chance to finish the tournament. He was in good spirits, however, and told me that work on his upper body and “get big.” Considering the fact that Catka could already pass for a college wrestler, that’s a scary thought for 220-pounders around the country.

Shirt off his back

One of the perks of actually being in Fargo compared with watching the live stream is that you can see what’s going on away from the spotlight. Sometimes, what’s happening in the corner of the mat can be as compelling as what happens on it.

For instance, two-time NCAA champion Gabe Dean, who is now a volunteer assistant coach at Cornell, served as a coach for Team PA. I specifically saw him working with St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy rising freshman Kolby Franklin throughout the freestyle tournament. He was offering Franklin pointers after his semifinal match, but it was in Franklin’s finals loss that Dean really got my attention.

You often hear that someone is such a good guy that he’ll “give you the shirt off his back,” but I don’t think I’d ever actually seen it happen until the finals. When Dean stepped onto the stage between periods of Franklin’s match with Georgia’s Noah Pettigrew, he realized that there was no towel with which to dry off Franklin. Dean didn’t miss a beat, quickly stripping off the long-sleeve fluorescent green tops that PA coaches were sporting, and used it to wipe up the sweat.

Dean coached the remainder of the match in a gray T-shirt and, so far as I saw, never made mention of his selfless act.

Shirt on his back

Speaking of shirts, Sammie Henson’s Fargo semifinal fashion choice likely endeared him to at least half of the state.

Henson, who grew up in Missouri, wrestled collegiately in South Carolina and has coached in Oklahoma, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Nebraska and, most recently, West Virginia. His sons, Wyatt and Jackson, attended Waynesburg Central High School last year and each were freestyle All-Americans for Pennsylvania this week.

Sporting a Pittsburgh Penguins shirt with “Crosby” on the back during the Juniors semifinals, Sammie Henson fit right in with the western Pennsylvania crowd.

Take 2, Part 1

Connor McGonagle, a Lehigh recruit who wrestles for Timberlane in New Hampshire, was a part of Team PA for the freestyle portion in Fargo and, performed well before an injury forced him to forfeit his consolation final match to Pennsylvania teammate Beau Bartlett.

McGonagle’s tournament got off to a bizarre start. He fell behind in his opening match before anyone figured out that he was wrestling the wrong opponent. His coaches didn’t ask for much of a break, however, and he took the mat again a few minutes later. The “warmup match” seemed to do him good, as he built an 8-0 lead before pinning Gabriel Degris of Minnesota in 52 seconds.

Take 2, Part 2

From a Pennsylvania wrestler who had to start a match twice to one who had to end his bout a couple of times. I described this one in the Juniors wrapup story, but Daniel Mancini of Owen J. Roberts actually had to finish his seventh-place Fargo match twice.

He scored what appeared to be a match-tying takedown with 17 seconds remaining that put him ahead on criteria. But, as the match restarted, the scoreboard was changed from a 2-point takedown to one-point for a stepout, meaning he needed to score in the final seconds. Not realizing this, Mancini didn’t press the action. After a conference, the officials decided the score should have been 8-7 but made made Mancini and Minnesota’s Tyler Eischens wrestle the final 17 seconds again. This time, Mancini did press the action and got the go-ahead takedown for a 9-8 victory.

About the Author:

Eric covers wrestling for The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown and has written for a number of other publications through the years. A former Division I wrestler, he's covered more than a dozen PIAA tournaments and four NCAA tournaments. His Knops Knotes blog focuses primarily on Districts 5 and 6.