Hanover wrestler Tyler Shafer faced a challenging decision four weeks ago: wrestle through a broken left hand or let the injury heal and hope he'd be ready for the individual postseason.
He chose the latter option but only returned to practice this week in advance of Saturday's District 3 Class AA Section I tournament at Susquenita High School. Despite limited practice time, Shafer is optimistic.
"I think it'll be relatively easy," he said. "I don't feel any pain right now. I think mentally tough, I'm all there. As long as I'm mentally tough, I'll be there physically, too."
Shafer, a junior ranked 18th by PA Power Wrestling at 145 pounds but who will compete at 138, won't have a large margin for error. The Nighthawks' section will be much more challenging after the number of District 3 Class AA section tournaments has dropped from three to two and each section was reorganized based on geography.
The Susquenita tournament features three teams ranked in the top nine by PA Power Wrestling, while Hamburg's has none in the top 25. PA Power Wrestling has also ranked 27 wrestlers who will be competing in Susquenita, compared to just 13 in Hamburg.
Perhaps the largest disparity comes at 160. Susquenita will feature four wrestlers with two or fewer losses, but the No. 1 seed at Hamburg, Annville-Cleona's Justin Ulrich, has 10.
Biglerville coach Bob Gano, who has Tyler Lieberum (31-2) wrestling at 160, wasn't happy.
"To me, it's disappointing," Gano said. "I just think it's a ridiculous setup, to be honest."
Going from three to two sections also limits the number of champions.
"There are kids that winning a section championship might be as good as it gets for them," Gano said. "We're taking that opportunity away from kids. The other sports, we're creating opportunities. In wrestling, we take them away."
Shafer (17-4) won the 138-pound section title last year at Bermudian Springs and hopes to repeat. A strong performance would improve his seed for the district tournament as his wrist continues to heal. He has a follow-up visit to his doctor Tuesday.
"It was never a question he was going to come back," Hanover coach Dave Cataldo said. "If it holds up, that'll be another story. He hasn't used (his hand) a whole lot yet. If we get a couple more weeks, just to let it heal, it'll be OK. I think these first two weeks is, 'Let's go out there and be in the best position we can.'"
A poor showing would hinder Shafer's seed for the district tournament should he qualify, making attaining postseason success more challenging. Cataldo has a solution.
"Let's be in those finals and let's win it," he said. "That makes it a lot easier."
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