By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
---- — Anyone who knows Dave Murray knows he is not by nature a quiet guy, whether it is imploring his wrestlers to get the most out of their abilities, or speaking his mind on any number of issues.
With Murray, you always know where he stands.
So it seemed a bit strange when the fourth-year Mifflinburg coach said that his approach to Thursday's key Heartland Athletic Conference Division I match with Shikellamy was to "shut up."
You see, Murray also knows his wrestlers. And he saw something in this young team after last weekend's rugged Powerade Tournament at Canon-McMillan High School that he liked. He was afraid to mess with it.
"I told the kids after the Powerade that I was very confident (about the match with Shikellamy)," he said. "There was no rally, no pep talk before this (meet). They were performing so well, so I was just shutting up and letting them wrestle."
Murray's new 'don't fix what isn't broken' philosophy certainly worked well against the Braves, a team which had beaten the Wildcats 40 of the 43 times they have met and which last lost to Mifflinburg in 2002.
After watching his squad dismantle the Braves in the Shikellamy Fieldhouse, a beaming Murray said, "They are getting better every time they hit the mat. They did a great job."
Mifflinburg is now 4-0 overall and, a fact Murray didn't realize -- or at least hadn't thought about -- already sitting at 3-0 in the HAC-I.
Barring an upset between now and then, Mifflinburg could be wrestling Jan. 26 at home versus a much-improved Williamsport squad for the HAC-I championship. That is a title that has been owned by Shikellamy since the inception of the league four years ago. Thursday's 50-19 Mifflinburg win was the first-ever HAC-I loss by Shikellamy.
What is more impressive is not only is this a team with only four seniors in the starting lineup, but their best wrestler, junior returning PIAA sixth-place medalist Ty Walter, has been out of action with a back injury since the season-opening Top Hat Tournament in Williamsport -- and his younger brother, freshman phenom Cole Walter, also missed one dual meet with an injury.
Murray, noting that Ty Walter returned to the practice room Thursday and is expected back soon, said, "That's how solid we are becoming; that's evidence of a solid team. When you have Ty, who in my eyes is the guy who could win the state title, and Cole ... out of the lineup and still defeat a team like Selinsgrove (last) week ..."
Murray gave a lot of credit to elementary and junior high coach Doug Walter and varsity assistant Tony Piermattei. "It's just an overall effort of a systematic approach to wrestling from the elementary level up to high school and now we're here," Murray said.
"I've never encountered this as a coach. I have so much belief in them."
In fairness to the Braves and first-year head coach John Supsic, the three-time defending champions have lost three starters for the season to injuries: sophomore 120-pounder Tristan Paul, junior Jesse Shambach (170/182) and promising freshman Alex Schaffner (106).
Nevertheless, Supsic expects his team to be much improved by the end of the month when the wrestlers are able to drop in weight classes and thus field a full lineup.
He is not concerned about the team's ability to bounce back from its rare early-season loss.
"We are going back to the drawing board. We are going to learn from our mistakes. I thought we got out of position way too easily (Thursday) when we did get pinned," he said.
"We are going to look forward. We are not going to beat a dead horse; we are going to go over our mistakes and we're going to just keep going," he said, noting that the Braves lost to a tough, well-balanced Mifflinburg team.
LATEST HALL CLASS: The Pennsylvania chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame will grow by seven in April. The latest class will include Warrior Run coach Wayne Smythe, who is closing on his 450th career win. Smythe was also a 1971 NAIA champion at 142 pounds for then Bloomsburg State College.
Also tabbed for induction this year are retired award-winning sportswriter (Centre Daily Times) Ron Bracken; longtime high school coach Dave Caslow, whose stints included Warrior Run; former Penn State wrestler and coach John Fritz; veteran writer and historian Bob Hower; former Bald Eagle Area elementary coordinator and PIAA official Lloyd Rhoades Jr.; and former high school coach (Penns Valley, BEA) coach and nationally known fly-fishing expert Joseph Humphreys.
Congratulations to all.
n Assistant sports editor Harold Raker covers high school wrestling for The Daily Item. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.