Central Dauphin Ram’s in Unfamiliar Territory This Season

Central Dauphin head coach Jeff Sweigard chuckled when he said, “I got a lot of phone calls from people wanting to put us on the schedule.”

But, it’s true.

Now that the Rams aren’t one of the top high school wrestling teams in Pennsylvania, one loaded with returning state qualifiers and nationally ranked talent, everyone wants a piece of Central Dauphin.

Sweigard and Co. aren’t backing away. Despite having a young team with only two seniors, this group is focused on working hard and laying the foundation for future Rams teams to succeed.

“I’m probably going to have some gray hairs this year,” Sweigard said. “We are as green as our uniforms. That’s how young we are. I have two seniors, maybe three if a football players comes out.

“Honestly, our kids are working hard, and we are fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. I might forfeit a weight or two this year, and they will be in the lower weights. Go figure that.

“Our junior high team went undefeated last year for the first time ever, but they were mostly seventh graders. This is the first time in I don’t know how long that I haven’t brought a freshman up.”

The Rams were the benchmark in District 3-AAA wrestling, winning team championships six straight years (2008-2013). That dominance carried over the stage level, as Sweigard’s crew won four straight team dual-meet titles (2008-2011) and four straight team titles during the individual championships (2007-2010).

In the years following those runs, the Rams were still a tough out. They continued to qualify for team states and put plenty of wrestlers on the podium in the individual championships.

But like any dynasty, there is only one way to go. The Rams have been hit hard by graduation over the years and have been forced to reload.

This is the year to get started. The season started two weeks ago, and it’s the first time in 35 years that Sweigard doesn’t have a returning state qualifier somewhere on his roster.

“The Cadillac was running nice, but now we need a tune up,” Sweigard said. “I’ve never had to pay to get into states, so I’m hoping to continue that.

“This reminds me of the years 1995 and 1996. I went 0-5 my first five matches at Central Dauphin, but the kids developed and got better, and we started taking off.

A week ago, the Rams blew by Mifflin County 41-27. This week, they face rival Cumberland Valley and will take on all comers at the prestigious Beast of the East Tournament at the University of Delaware.

To prepare for the grueling season, Sweigard has relied on his former wrestlers. Guys like Steven McNeal, Mitchell Talbott, Zach Bentz , and others.

“The kids are listening,” Sweigard said. “They are doing what they are supposed to do. We doing a lot of technique work, teaching them how to drill.

“This is the biggest coaching staff I’ve ever had. We brought on Wisconsin All-American Connor Medbery, who lost to Kyle Snyder a couple of years ago, and Brandon [Bucher] is doing a great job.

“I also picked up former wrestlers to come in and train with these guys. Zach Bentz, Steven McNeal, these guys have been through it. They were average wrestlers and made something of themselves.”

The current group of Rams wrestlers are buying in. Of course, if you’ve been to a Rams practice, there is no choice.

There just aren’t as many leaders in the room as their used to be. That puts more the shoulders of Sweigard, the coaching staff, and Rams holdover wrestlers Mitchell Arch and Hunter Bentz.

“It’s different being a leader,” Arch said. “You can’t have mistakes. You just have to be more mature. You have to lead by example, practice hard, work hard, both in practice and matches.

“At Central Dauphin, the practices are really tough. You have to show that you can push through and give it all you have. It’s easy to cheat practice, but that isn’t what makes you better.”

Said Bentz, “We got a lot of new coaches this year, but we really have to lead the team. We have to push each other as teammates. We need to work hard to get where we want to be.”

These workouts are some of the toughest around. But as difficult as they are, the time between 3 and 5 p.m. every day teaches these kids how to be champions and also succeed outside of wrestling.

That’s what Sweigard and his staff preaches and expects. And, it’s how Central Dauphin will get back to the top of the high school wrestling ladder.

“I’m looking for improvement,” Sweigard said. “I know where we are at, and I want to see where we are going to go. The kids that have been there are working hard. We aren’t going to baby them, and I think we will surprise some people.”

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