Eighth-Grader Ryan Crookham Storms Super 32 Quarterfinals

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Maybe he’s not old enough to know that the Super 32 tournament is one that routinely sees some of the nation’s most talented wrestlers falter under its pressure, but Ryan Crookham is having a blast.

The eighth-grader from Saucon Valley tore through 113-pound bracket of the nation’s toughest folkstyle tournament for high school wrestlers on Saturday. His 5-1 victory over second-seeded Cody Phippen of Missouri, an Air Force recruit who is ranked seventh by FloWrestling, pushed him into Sunday’s quarterfinal round.

Despite being four years younger than some of his opponents – including Phippen – Crookham outscored them 26-1 on Saturday. Not a bad showing for a kid who could have been wrestling in the middle school division again.

“I felt really good,” Crookham said of his performance on Saturday. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot funner than the middle school division, because there’s a lot less pressure on me. I’m just hitting whatever’s there. I feel really free. Yeah, I feel good.”

He certainly looked good. Crookham started the day with a 15-0 technical fall over Georgia’s Joey Felix. He followed that with a 5-0 victory over New Jersey’s Hunter Gandy and a 1-0 win over California’s Isaac Salas.

“The handfighting has gotten a lot tougher. I’ve been using my head a lot more,” said Crookham, whose face had plenty of red marks to show for it. “I’m not usually one to be dirty, but sometimes you have to use your head a lot.”

After storming to a Super 32 belt last year and the Outstanding Wrestler Award for the middle school division, Crookham wanted a new challenge this time around.

“I thought it would be a lot tougher and a lot funner,” he said. “It’s really fun … this is a whole new group of kids that I haven’t wrestled before, so they haven’t seen my style and I haven’t seen theirs. It’s just wrestling new kids and having fun.”

For Crookham, “having fun” doesn’t necessarily mean winning a high school belt, but if he could go through New York’s Dylan Ryder and Greg Diakomihalis and California’s Antonio Lorenzo on Sunday – which he might need to do to bring home a title – the experience he gains would be even better.

“Of course, I want to win,” Crookham said. “I’m just having fun, trying my best. If I win, I win. If I don’t, it’s OK. I’m just preparing for high school next year, preparing for states or national preps, whatever it will be. Yeah, just having fun.”

So what does Crookham think he needs to do in order to bring home a high school belt on Sunday?

“Just let it fly,” he said. “Have fun. Believe in myself. As the tournament went on, I’m learning new things about myself and I’m believing a lot more. I feel I’m ready for tomorrow. Wrestle some new kids, some tough kids. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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