The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 18, 2014

Harold Raker's high school wrestling column: Mifflinburg's Murray happily returns


Daily Item

---- — At the end of a 16-2 season as Mifflinburg's wrestling coach, and with plenty of talent returning, Dave Murray stunned the wrestling community in March of 2012 by walking away.

Perhaps if he were a mathematics teacher, instead of social studies, Murray might have stayed.

His decision to return after a one-year hiatus was influenced in part by one of his former high school coaches, 1980 state champion Wade Potter.

"My old coach at Jersey Shore, Wade Potter, told me 'You get 24 hours in a day and you've got to fill those with something," Murray said.

After a year off, Potter's comments made him think that he could do it all, without sacrificing quality in any area.

He talked to his wife about a possible return. "Since my son is into wrestling now and we're working out mornings with him, and his elementary buddies come to the house and train, I thought, 'Well, I can fit those into that 24 hours in a day.

"So I said, 'Let's give it another try, as long as I keep my priorities right: God, family, school, and then wrestling.'''

One reason for leaving the program, he said, was that there were a lot of times that he had problems keeping those priorities straight.

He said one of the coaches he talked to and looks up to was Line Mountain's Mike Martz, who similarly took a season off a few years ago. "He's a class act, that guy," Murray said.

As passionate as Murray is about the sport, he conceded that the year off from coaching was not tough. "I enjoyed being with my family and I really took full advantage of it."

But he attended the matches and said that, while watching the Wildcats compete in the postseason and going to states, "I couldn't shut up. I was yelling from the stands telling them what they could do on the edge.

"But I totally focused on my family and growing myself in other areas," he said.

For his second tenure, he has a bit different philosophy. "I realize that I'm here to help kids achieve their goals, not mine. It's about focusing on the best performances and everything you have every match, and that's all I care about. Whatever happens, happens -- that's my approach. My goals are 'what do you guys want to do?' It's a little more laid-back.''

The former two-time state medalist at Jersey Shore said there is one area that needs to improve and which would pay dividends yet this season.

"We're looking for consistency. They might knock off a kid maybe above their skill level and then they might drop off the next match and lose to a kid that is a little under their skill level," Murray said.

"That's what we have to get and we'll get that by the end of the year," he said.

The Wildcats are 6-6 after a tough loss at Shikellamy on Thursday and in the mix to be part of a tough Class AA field for the District 4 Duals Championships later this month.

"We've got to get everybody healthy and wrestling at their top level," Murray said.

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Speaking of Jersey Shore, the school's wrestling association was active last year in the successful Operation Save Wrestling campaign to persuade the International Olympic Committee to keep the sport in the Games. They had T-shirts reading "Wrestlers Never Quit."

Ironically, that was what the Shikellamy wrestlers did in order to prevail over Murray's squad in Thursday's Heartland Athletic Conference Division I match.

If every Wildcat wrestler who had a Brave on his back that night had been able to finish the job, Mifflinburg would have claimed victory.

But time and time again, when the situation seemed dire, the Braves fought and then fought some more to avoid bonus points. In the case of AJay Baker, he not only avoided the six bonus points for Mifflinburg, he made it a 12-point swing by pinning his opponent.

Others whose battle to get off the bottom paved the way for the Braves' win were John Supsic in an 11-2 loss to Noah Kuba at 126 and Nick Cashdollar in a 6-2 loss to Cooper Wagner at 132.

For Mifflinburg, John Punako put the Wildcats up 12-6 early with a takedown with nine seconds left for a 2-1 win over Joe Snyder at 182.

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