By Frank Dimon
For The Daily Item
By any standard, his freshman year was a good one. But a season that produced 27 wins, including a West Sectional tournament championship, a District 4 third-place finish, and a regional fourth, was not what Ryan Preisch wanted.
A trip to the state tournament had been the ultimate goal for Preisch, and when he lost a 7-2 decision to Central Columbia’s Ben Emmert in the consolation final at 145 pounds, he missed the final qualifying spot for Hershey.
So when the frustrated Preisch climbed off the podium that night, he removed the fourth-place medal from its lanyard and slipped it in his back pocket, carrying it as a constant source of motivation in the weeks that followed.
“Ryan has had disappointments in his career — that fourth-place finish was one — and he has always used them as motivation,” Milton coach Mike Snyder said earlier this week. “That loss was a big disappointment for him and he put that medal in his pocket as motivation. He finds ways to motivate himself.”
Preisch has qualified for the state tournament twice since that early setback. As a sophomore, he capped a 34-4 season with a district title and a regional second at 152, but after a convincing 8-0 major decision over Coudersport’s Kyle Bova in the first round, he was blanked, 5-0, by eventual state runner-up Peter Renda, and under-performed in a 6-4 loss to Andrew Doak.
“He was one win from placing, so that was another disappointment for him,” Snyder said. “But he came back strong last year.”
As a junior, Preisch placed at the rugged Beast of the East tournament despite a leg injury and then dominated Southern Columbia freshman Blake Marks in three straight postseason tournaments to sail into the Giant Center armed with a huge amount of momentum.
He blanked his first two opponents, 8-0 and 5-0, but in the semifinals against top-ranked Austin Matthews of Reynolds, Preisch was victimized by one big move and never recovered in a 16-7 loss.
A loss in the semifinals of the state tournament is always the most difficult defeat to bounce back from, but Preisch roared back to take third when he shut out Bo Bonzo of Freedom, 7-0, and then stopped Hughesville’s Kyle Barnes, 3-1, in the third-place bout to finish a 33-5 junior season.
“My focus since that day has been on a gold medal,” Preisch said. “I’ve had a fire burning since then. I need to win gold this year.”
Preisch has spent countless hours preparing for his last trip to Hershey. He’s been a regular at practices run by the Benton Wrestling Club, the Legends Club at Bucknell, and the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. He wrestled in tournaments during the summer and earned All-American status at Fargo.
“It’s a lot of time and a lot of work, but it’s all to get to the top of the podium,” Preisch said. “Wrestling freestyle and Greco helped me so much because your body works different in each of them. They both complement and help each other.”
“He works all the time, so we have to tell him to take some time off,” Snyder said. “He wants it so bad he doesn’t realize he needs to rest. He has to make sure — we have to make sure — that he is fresh heading to the state tournament.”
Preisch improved his record to 31-2 after claiming his fourth sectional championship with a 14-2 major decision over Lewisburg’s Max Reed in the 160-pound of the South tournament last weekend. He owns dominating wins over three state place-winners, two state qualifiers, and thee district champions, thanks to Milton’s tough schedule that includes the Cumberland Valley tournament and the Beast of the East.
His losses have been at the hands of two nationally ranked wrestlers at the Beast. He was beaten, 18-7, by Myles Martin of McDough (Md.), a national prep champion who is ranked No. 5 in the country at 170 by Intermat, and edged, 5-3, by Josh Llopez of St. Marys Ryken (Md.), a national prep runner-up and ranked No. 9.
“I feel powerful, more confident,” said Preisch, who owns a 125-20 career record. “Except for the losses, I think I have wrestled well. I feel I can’t be beaten every time I take the mat.”
Preisch is ranked No. 2 in the state by Off The Mat, just behind the unbeaten Bova and one spot ahead of Benton’s Jeric Kasunic, a possible finals opponent in the District 4 final Saturday night.
“He has work to do yet this season,” Snyder said. “He will see good kids this weekend and the two weeks after that. We are working on a lot of little things to make him better.”
Preisch committed to wrestle at Lehigh early last fall.
“I wanted to get the college decision taken care of and out of the way before the season started,” said Preisch, who also looked at Maryland, North Carolina State, Kent State, Lock Haven, and Bucknell. “I felt like Lehigh was the best choice for me. I went on my visit to Lehigh and it felt like home. It felt like the perfect place for me. I loved the facilities, the team, and the coaches.”
Now with just three tournaments remaining in his high school career, Preisch is ready for the final run.
“I am so glad the postseason is finally here,” Preisch said. “The dual meet season is fun, but its takes a while and this part of the season just goes so quickly. The better competition at districts, regionals, and states makes it so much fun.”
Snyder thinks Preisch is ready.
“He realized three years ago how good he could be,” Snyder said. “That has motivated him every day. In our mind, he is the best guy at 160. He just has to prove it.”