In a preseason training video, the camera pans to show Colonial Forge wrestlers sprinting, shooting moves and leaping forward, all with resistance bands tethered around their midsections.
Following a pair of disappointing seasons, nothing was going to hold the Eagles back in 2012.
“What stood out to me was that group of kids didn’t win a state title as a team in 2010 or 2011, and that group of kids was very motivated to win a state title,” said Bill Swink, who led the Eagles to six of them during his 17 years at the helm.
If pressed, Swink probably wouldn’t label the 2012 squad as his best or most talented. But it may have been his deepest.
The Eagles sent just one wrestler—senior David Reck—to the championship finals of the Group AAA state tournament that winter, yet managed to surpass runner-up Robinson by 65 points in the team standings. Instead, Colonial Forge built its unassailable margin on the backs of an unprecedented 10 state placewinners.
That’s not to say The Free Lance-Star’s team of the decade was short on talent.
Reck won an individual state title at 182 pounds, while senior Michael Hayes dropped a wrenching overtime decision in his 126-pound semifinal, finishing third. Connor Mairena, Mark Garrity, and Quinton Winters also placed third in states. Colonial Forge wrestlers occupied nine of the 14 spots on The Free Lance-Star’s 2012 All-Area team.
The Eagles tested their mettle on the national stage, finishing third at Escape the Rock (Pennsylvania) and sixth at Beast of the East (Delaware). They compiled a 27-3 duals record, with all three losses occurring at a prestigious event in Minnesota. Commonwealth District and Northwest Region titles followed in short order.
“All year, they were battlers,” Swink said. “We would go to big tournaments out of state, and those kids were placing, they were getting medals… We knew there weren’t a lot of superstars on that team. They were real lunch-pail type guys who were going to work at it.”
Some of that hunger came from a glimpse of Forge teams past. Back then, recent graduates of the program were a frequent presence in the Eagles’ wrestling room. Past state champions like Shane Gentry, Ian Squires and Joey Pantelo would spend their college breaks forging the next generation of wrestlers.
The Eagles also plied their trade outside of school hours. Reck set up a mat in his parents’ basement, and he remembers never wanting for practice partners.
“I think, more than anything, that 2012 team had a bunch of leaders,” Reck said. “And a different kind of leader, just people doing the right thing. Not people in your face or anything like that, just kids consistently wanting to do the right thing and wanting to get better and enjoying the sport.”
Joey LoMonaco: 540/368-5045