---- — As the crowd at last Saturday's District 4 Class AA Southern Sectional Tournament began filtering out of the gym to hit the area restaurants between sessions, the public address announcer was reading off the up-to-date team points, from lowest to first.
When he got to No. 2, you could tell that a lot of fans were surprised. Fans of the surprising second-place Midd-West Mustangs began to applaud.
Over the years, some teams have come and gone from the list of title contenders, but the Mustangs have not been in their company.
Saturday night, Coach Clint Swartz's team finished a close second to team champion and host Mifflinburg, and advanced five to tonight's District 4 championship tournament in Williamsport.
Not bad for a team that finished with a regular-season dual meet record of 9 wins and 20 losses.
Swartz said the goals for the year were to improve their wrestlers in all aspects of the sport, and they focused on trying to get as many through the postseason tournaments as possible.
But contending for a sectional title?"We knew we would have a solid nucleus of wrestlers with some others coming up from junior high, but winning a sectional title wasn't really on our minds," Swartz said.
If there was a key to this kind of turnaround, it was probably the same combination that every coach looks for in his wrestlers: hard work and dedication.
"We have had a group of wrestlers who have wrestled more in the off-season and have been working extra after practices," he said. "We have been able, with the addition of our weight room, to do a lot more strength work during the season and that has helped us this season."
Swartz hopes this is only the beginning for the Snyder County program.
"We are really hoping to build on this season and use it as a stepping stone for some good things to come in the future, " he said. "We had a nice junior high team this season and hopefully some of those wrestlers will make it into our lineup."
Among the top achievers for the Mustangs this year are wrestlers both young and old (or should I say veteran).
Senior Zach Heeter, at 145 pounds, has been a leader by his performances and by his leadership, as he enters the district meet at 33-2 and as a sectional champion.
"Zach Heeter as a senior has really helped out the team by working with the young guys in the room and putting in the time in the off-season," Swartz said.
He added, "Our younger wrestlers have really stepped up by working hard in the off-season and during the season."
It has paid off on the mat. Sophomore Tanner Ebright (126) is 24-9, sophomore Corey Stauffer (106) is 33-1 and even freshman Alexander Tittle finished 11-15 at 152 and freshman Dalton Klingler finished at 15-21 at 113. Junior Alex Lieberman (160), also a sectional champ, is 28-5 and junior Zach Longacre (195) finished 22-13.
So, by now you have noticed that the Mustangs have spent a lot of time on the mat, looking at their number of duals.
Swartz, whose former team, Warrior Run, wrestles lots of duals, has taken the same approach in Middleburg.
"We just try to get our guys as many quality matches as possible," Swartz said. "We aren't at a level as a whole team to go to some higher level individual tournaments so we go wrestle a lot of duals where our guys get some quality matches.
"Plus, we try to wrestle out of the area so we see a lot of different teams. We think it benefits us more to wrestle the duals and get a lot of matches than to go to tournaments where some of our wrestlers may only get two matches."
And perhaps in the next few years, that level of competition may go up a notch at Midd-West.
"We are starting to see some of the younger wrestlers who have been in our program for a while now coming to the junior high and varsity levels and they are starting to show their talents," Swartz said. "We've always had good numbers in the elementary program and now we are starting to keep some of those numbers as they move up through the program."
And that could help Midd-West to keep moving up in the standings in the postseason tournaments.
n Sports editor Harold Raker covers high school wrestling for The Daily Item. Email comments to email@example.com.