Offseason Motivation Has Inspired Freshman Ryan Crookham To Excel at The State Level

Ryan Crookham wasn’t happy with his offseason performance in the Cadet Freestyle Nationals in Fargo, N.D., last summer.

Really, you couldn’t blame him. He is the only eighth grader to win the prestigious Super 32 Tournament— he did it in 2017 — and was the No. 1 ranked wrestler in his weight class coming into high school.

Of course, self-imposed expectations were high. So, when Crookham finished seventh in his class in the offseason event, it fueled his fire for more.

Crookham carried that motivation into his first high school season. After deciding to wrestle at Notre Dame-Green Pond, the freshman phenom cruised through his Pennsylvania competition and is the favorite to capture the Class 2A 120-pound title in this week’s PIAA Championships at Hershey’s Giant Center.

“I wrestled at Fargo, and I didn’t place where I wanted to place, so I had a lot of motivation coming into the season,” Crookham said. “I just feel like I’m working harder and having more fun.

“I feel like my approach was different, and I wasn’t stressed. I’m just having a lot of fun this season.”

That’s an understatement.

It isn’t like Crookham blasted his way to a 45-2 mark by virtue of a soft slate. He’s wrestled tough wrestlers in high-profile events and shown his worth.

Crookham started strong with three wins in the Walsh Ironman Tournament. Then came a tough 4-3 loss to Ohio’s Lucas Byrd, who ended the regular season as the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the nation, before placing third in the event.

The rough December gauntlet continued at Beast of the East. Crookham had another close 4-3 setback, this time at the hands of New Jersey’s Eddie Ventresca, who is ranked seventh nationally. Crookham came back to beat No. 5-ranked Blair standout Trevor Mastrogiovanni and finish third.

Since then, Crookham hasn’t been touched. Included in his strong run through the season was a 6-1 decision over Reynolds’ Beau Bayless, a three-time state placer and 2017 state champion.

“I just got prepared from the beginning of the season,” Crookham said. “We wrestled at the Beast and the Ironman, and then coming to wrestle state guys, I just didn’t feel stressed. Going out and scoring points was all it was.

“I thought I could do this, but I wasn’t sure. The tournaments at the beginning of the season really prepared me for this.”

Crookham is a freshman, but he doesn’t wrestle like it. That showed in the win over Bayless, an experienced player at the state level.

The victory propelled him to No. 1 status in the state, according to PA Power Wrestling. It also set Crookham up for a march through the postseason, which included a 5-0 win over Bishop McDevitt’s Nate Smith, who is ranked fifth in the state.

“It was a close match,” Crookham said after his regional title score. “It teaches me how to be stingy and be smart and be technical.

“On top, I have to ride tough … It’s just a good match to prepare me for states, because a lot of those matches will be pretty close, and you have to earn it.”

Crookham, who is ranked second nationally at 120, won’t be doing anything out of the ordinary in preparation for the three-day extravaganza at Giant Center. It’s more mental than physical when he steps on the mat.

Sure, technique is critical, and Crookham knows he needs to be sharp. But, a bigger focal point is his approach to the match, dictating pace, getting in the right mindset, and having fun.

“That is where the approach and mindset come in,” Crookham said. “I’ve just got to be fast paced, get off to fast starts, and keep my composure. Some of these matches might be low scoring and close.

“I wrestled [at Giant Center] for the duals, and that definitely helped. The only difference is that there are going to be more people in the stands, but I wrestled at Ironman and Beast, and there were people everywhere.

“My coach has prepared me for this. I feel pretty confident coming into the tournament, and there is still work to do. So, I have to be as prepared as possible.”

Leave a Comment