The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 2, 2013

Harold Raker's high school wrestling column: Losses not always bad

Daily Item

---- — His initial reaction was to begin laughing. Then he told his friend, and they both laughed.

It's not the usual reaction one might see if one were to attend the weigh-in for a dual meet.

But Southern Columbia freshman Blake Marks couldn't help himself. His undermanned Tigers were visiting Columbia County's other Tigers, the ones from Benton, in a preliminary round of the District 4 Class AA Duals.

Weighing in at 145.1 pounds was world champion, former state champion and former PIAA bronze medalist Zain Retherford.

What that meant was that Benton's senior 138-pounder would be able to wrestle at 152 that night. At Marks' weight.

"I knew they were not having him weigh in over to get a forfeit. I knew they were going to bump him up to go against me," Marks said.

After weigh-ins, Marks went to see his dad, head coach and former two-time Southern state champion Jerry. "I said to him 'did you see that Retherford weighed in over' and he said, 'You better get ready, you have nothing to lose.'"

That meant that twice in eight days, Southern's star freshman was taking on a former state medalist. Those same Benton Tigers, in a regular-season meet, sent senior and three-time state medalist Colt Cotton out against Marks.

Before that, Marks had an unbeaten record. He lost 7-6 to Cotton, and battled Retherford before losing 8-4.

Those two losses on his record are not important to this second-generation grappler.

"I think it's going to project into the post-season. I will face tough kid after tough kid and hopefully it will get me prepared to wrestle good kids," the younger Marks said. "One after another."

What should also help him is, because at 152, he will meet a lot of upperclassmen, many of them stronger than him.

That's what he got in Retherford. "He was very tough. I had a big weight advantage on him, but he was so strong with good awareness of every position he was at," Marks said.

"I took a shot in on him that he fought off. I nearly had him taken down. The position that he was in made it really tough to fight off, and any other kid that I wrestled if I had , him in that position would not have been able to get out of it.

"He is unbelievably strong," Marks said.

"But it is not only his strength. He is quick and fast. He has all the components that a good wrestler needs," he added of the former Line Mountain star, who is headed to Penn State University.

In the earlier meet, Marks said, Benton's regular 145-pounder was missing so they thought that Benton would bump Cotton up.

"I try to get myself as pumped as possible, but our 132-pounder pinned his guy in 16 seconds. I thought I would have a little more time to get prepared," he said.

"I knew Cotton would be a tough match and I was pretty worried before the match. After the match, my assistant coach (Kent Lane) and my dad said that should wake me up and make me realize I can do some pretty good things in the post-season," he said.

"It really boosted my confidence and got me ready for the post-season."

His father said that Benton coach Russ Hughes told him afterward they moved Retherford up for a chance to get a good match, something he hadn't had since December.

He said Blake was down 5-1 after the first period but reversed Retherford to make it 7-4 before Retherford got escaped late.

"The Cotton match was really exciting," Jerry Marks said. "Blake took him down and then was reversed (it was 2-2 after the first period)."

He said it was 7-5 Cotton going into the third, and Marks escaped to close it to 7-6 and was close to a takedown when time expired.

n Reversals needed

When the Valley's two remaining Class AA teams take the mats at Milton this morning in the D4 Duals quarterfinals, Lewisburg and Warrior Run will each need big-time reversals of their previous match-ups to stay alive.

Lewisburg gets Hughesville, a 57-18 victor little more than a week ago; Warrior Run meets Benton, a 53-21 winner in December.

After the Green Dragons' advanced by beating Line Mountain on Wednesday night, assistant coach Mike Brown (filling in for Jim Snyder) admitted he wanted Wyalusing to beat Hughesville that night. It didn't happen.

He said that the Green Dragons don't match up well with the Spartans.

But, Brown also said he has seen teams have 20-point swings from previous matches.

"You never know with high school kids. Who would have thought we were going to beat Benton? Nobody," he said, referring to Lewisburg's last-second win over the Tigers last week.

Indeed, the Tigers' fans might have imagined they saw yellow crime tape around the Donald Eichorn Middle School gym that night.

The Dragons have more incentive to keep going. Their 18 wins is the second most in a season in program history. Five more will tie the record and it will take a deep run in the state tournament to do it.

A win in the quarterfinals today would give them that chance, as three teams advance this year.

n Sports editor Harold Raker covers high school wrestling for The Daily Item. Email comments to