It is hard to imagine the wrestling seasons for Tunkhannock Area and Lackawanna Trail to get any better, but they have.
Three wrestlers, senior Mark Dunckle and sophomore Michael Bluhm of Trail, along with Tunkhannock junior Lucas Carpenter, have all been named first team All-Academic wrestlers for the 2019-20 season by the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches’ Association.
In addition, Tunkhannock, Trail, and Elk Lake are represented by 16 athletes on the PIAA District 2 teams, in what is being called the largest class of Division 2 ever.
To be selected, a nominated wrestler must have a season winning percentage over .500 and an academic GPA of a 3.0 or higher.
PWCA President Phil Lipski said through a press release, “I am extremely proud of the coaches who guided these individuals to excel both physically and academically throughout the year. Wrestling is a demanding sport. Excelling in the classroom and on the mat is a daunting task. The Coaches Association is proud to recognize these wrestlers.”
Dunckle, a 195-pound senior who plans to continue his education at Bucknell University this fall, will be suiting up for the gridiron as a walk-on recruit for the Bisons while studying civil engineering.
Though he will not wrestle in college, the significance of making first team all-state was not lost on him.
“Being a senior and being recognized as an academic in the sport for the district and the state, is something I will always remember,” said Dunckle. “I can’t say I expected it, as I came into wrestling for my first time ever. There was definitely a lot of learning at the beginning, but thanks to my great coaching staff I was able to develop into the wrestler I was. I couldn’t thank them enough.”
He continued, “Also, with all of this recognition happening in a state like Pennsylvania, it makes it that much sweeter. There are a lot of great athletes in this state and it’s an honor to be recognized with them. As a three sport athlete, it gets exhausting balancing school and even work all together and maintain my 4.0. I say the key to my success all comes down to time management. I always lay out what I need to get done and pick a time when I can do it. It can get exhausting, but it’s all worth it.”
Dunckle finished perfect in the classroom, while compiling a 13-8 career record on the mat. He was also a team captain under the lights on Friday nights and an award winning shut putter on the track team.
Sophomore Michael Bluhm (132) is also making some noise on the mats and in the classroom. Bluhm was selected to the state team based on his impressive performance this season, going 36-10 to bolster his 71-17 overall career record, all while holding his 4.0 average.
“In my next two years, I want to maintain my grades and continue to get better at wrestling,” said Bluhm. “I am trying to get to 100 wins, but at the same time I want to keep doing well in the classroom.”
He added, “What drove me was my love for the sport of wrestling and wanting to achieve high grades. It feels really good to be recognized in the state, as not only someone who does well academically, but as a decent wrestler too.”
More than a decent wrestler, Bluhm is also an accomplished runner for the Lions’ cross country team.
Trail head wrestling coach Keith Youtz was not surprised by his wrestlers, and in fact, has had Trent Phillips (2014-16) and Nathaniel Barbolish and Devon Clarke (2015) make first team all district and he believes the last all state nod was for Chad Johnson 2006.
Tunkhannock was represented on the all-state team by Carpenter.
Carpenter, who also plays soccer in the fall and volleyball in the spring, had a 24-15 record this season, and pulled a 3.9 overall average in the classroom.
He said of the honor, “It feels amazing. I knew that I had done well this year, but being recognized in what I see as the best wrestling state, makes me feel like all the hard work in both the wrestling room and classroom has paid off.”
Head Coach Gary Siegel said of the 160-pounder, “The Tiger wrestling family is very excited to have Luke Carpenter represent us as a first team academic all state.”
“It means a lot, having my best high school season so far and getting it topped off with this. It is an honor going into my senior season, and it gives me a lot of confidence to just go out and do my job for both me and my team,” said Carpenter. “I will definitely try to fill that leadership role that as a senior I am supposed to fill. It is lucky for me that I had amazing team role models such as Sam Rice, Tommy Traver, and all the seniors this year. I know I have it in me to take charge. Being told I was on the first team really is going to help me bring confidence into the room, something our team is going to need this year.”
In addition to Dunckle, Bluhm, and Carpenter, 13 more Tigers, Lions, and Warriors were granted with the postseason district level honor.
On the District 2 first team are Trail’s Dunckle, sophomores Bluhm and Mason Zajac, and freshmen Deegan Ross, Ethan Lee, and Max Bluhm. Tunkhannock’s Carpenter is also first team.
Tunkhannock placed senior Ethan Munley and sophomore Nick Marabell on the second team, alongside Elk Lake sophomore Todd Snyder and Trail freshman Seth Ross.
Honorable mentions went to Tunkhannock’s senior Dave Evans, and sophomores Frankie Scranta and Owen Woods; Trail’s sophomore Kody Cresswell; and Elk Lake senior Noah Atkins.
Siegel said he wasn’t surprised at how many wrestlers Tunkhannock had on the all-district team, saying ‘How are your grades’ and ‘How is your weight’ are the first questions he asks when the wrestlers enter his matroom.
Youtz agreed, stating, “We always promote academics. We have a unique group that are very talented.”
“I wish we had more,” said Siegel, the Tiger’s first year coach. “Brett Sickler won our academic award this year, it is one of only four awards we give out at the banquet. Brett just didn’t have enough matches/wins to qualify for this program. We have other boys in that situation.”
Similarly, Warriors coach Rob Gagliardi was not shocked with the announcements.
“I was happy with a third of our team being represented on the all-academic team,” explained Gagliardi. “I wasn’t surprised by Todd and Noah’s academic achievements because they are great students and see the importance of not only working hard in the matroom, but also the classroom. School work is a priority to them and they help each other out academically as teammates throughout the season.”
Atkins and Snyder are both repeating their recognitions from last season.
Atkins, who intends on hitting the mats at Keystone College this winter, said of his honorable mention selection, “I think this selection will benefit me in the sense that I know I’m capable of getting sufficient grades, and it is in my best interest to do so.”
He added, “Elk Lake has had a lot of struggles, although in probably half the cases I don’t think it’s the student’s inability to get the work done, I think it’s their mind-set. My mom told me, ‘People can look at the glass as half full or half empty, but they should drink it anyway.’ And I think that applies to academics. You can think it’s going to benefit you, or it’s going to waste your time, but when something you want to do is on the line, just do it anyway. I feel good knowing that I made this team, and it’s a milestone going into college.”
Sophomore Snyder is an up and coming wrestler who knows the importance of this second team honor.
“Wrestling is a sport that, at times, can be completely reliant on numbers. Year after year, we see teams struggle with academic ineligibility. Reminding the upcoming wrestlers, and current teammates, that dedicating yourself in the classroom is just as important as dedicating yourself on the mat, and helping them at given moments is key to making sure we can be as successful a team as possible in terms of numbers.”
He added, “I feel greatly accomplished, applying my skills on the mat is important, but being able to apply myself in the classroom is just as important. Both the sport and the academics go hand in hand in preparing myself for further education and student-athlete careers.”
Gagliadi echoed his charges, saying, “Coach Woolcock and I, both being teachers, place an emphasis on their school work and explain to them that is the main reason why they are in school. We take time each practice during a team briefing to check up on school updates, grades, and planning for anyone who needs some academic assistance.”
Tunkhannock sophomore Owen Woods was selected as an honorable mention this season, after a 35-11 campaign, bumping his two-year numbers to an impressive 65-20 while posting a 3.0 GPA.
Humbly, Woods recognized he has room to improve in the classroom.
“My grades weren’t the greatest this year; I would like to improve on that for next year, and hopefully make first or second all academic team,” he said. “Honestly, I struggle when it comes to grades and this gives me something more to push myself for.”
He also said, “With the COVID-19 stuff going on right now, I’m still lifting at home to get stronger for next season and putting the time in on the online assignments Tunkhannock has set up.”
Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the PWCA annual banquet has been cancelled. Certificates recognizing the wrestlers accomplishments will be mailed to the coaches.