Something happened to Joe Gartland during his run to the state final in the PIAA wrestling tournament.
Beforehand, Gartland's post-high school plan was to go into the family plumbing and heating business.
But with each win at Hershey, it seemed as if doors that were closed to Gartland before were being opened.
After returning to Penncrest with his silver medal, not only is Gartland planning to go to college, he's hoping to wrestle there."I told him that he has the rest of his life to work,' Penncrest coach Greg Jacobs said. "Wrestling has provided him with a great opportunity to get an education at the next level and hopefully wrestle at the next level as well. I hope he makes the most of it.'
Because of his outstanding season, Gartland was named the 2013 Daily Times Wrestler of the Year. Joining him on the first team are Marple Newtown's Jason Rinaldi and Ryan Flynn, Michael Marino and John Dambro from Garnet Valley, Upper Darby's Austin Petril and Josh Yeboah-Gyasi, Karon Lucas-Tillery of Penn Wood, Matt Gould of Interboro, L.J. Barlow of Haverford School, Liam Frank of Penncrest, Abner Thompson of Academy Park, Joe DePhillipo of Bonner-Prendergast, Matt Pelton of Radnor and Luke Brooman of Episcopal Academy.
And to think, Gartland's wrestling season almost didn't happen.
Gartland, a two-time All-Delco at 170 pounds who was the football team's top running back last fall, tore the meniscus in his left knee and nearly opted for surgery that would have robbed him of most of wrestling season. That would have meant no shot at 100 wins and a less-than-likely chance that he would qualify for states."I went into the first week of practice with the sore knee and I was like ' Wow, should I really do this?'' Gartland said. "I went to the doctor and he said if you get surgery, you're going to be out until postseason. So much for 100 wins and, by that point, would I really be wrestling to my full ability? So I was like, ' Just deal with it.''
After conferring with his doctor and coach and realizing that he couldn't do any more damage to the knee, Gartland decided to hold off on surgery until after wrestling was finished. Still, he wasn't operating at full capacity."It was hard to get used to at first,' Gartland said. "When I was on bottom, defense, I couldn't really get my stance. I was having trouble doing all of that, being flexible, doing the funky stuff. That's my game. I like doing the funky rolls, I like doing all that crazy stuff. I couldn't do that in the beginning of the season until I got used to the pain."I didn't have myself going back to states, I was wrestling so bad at one point in the season.'
In Gartland's estimation, it wasn't until he wrestled at the Central Dauphin duals in mid-January when he started feeling better. In his first match of the tournament against Central Dauphin's Colton Peppelman, Gartland dropped a 13-7 decision.
However, he found that he was able to escaping from underneath much easier than he had been all season long. It was exactly what he was waiting for."I got out really quick and I was like ' Wow, I can stand there with these type of kids, the top kids in the state,'' Gartland said. "That's really when I started to feel it.'
Gartland lost just one match at the Central Dauphin duals and, after dropping a 5-4 decision to Steffen Vestal in a dual meet against Lower Merion four days later, he won 16 consecutive matches before losing a 1-0 decision to Dominic Rigous from Central Bucks South in the Class AAA Southeast Regional final.
"In mid-January he hit a little bit of a low (after) he lost to Vestal in a dual meet,' Jacobs said. "He kind of realized that this was his last shot and he started to come around. He had a nice showing at the Vanguard tournament, got the win there. That really set up his confidence for down the road.'
In the interim, Gartland exacted a bit of revenge by pinning Vestal to win the District One Class AAA title, earning his 100th win in the process. He also qualified for states for the second straight year.
Both Gartland and Jacobs knew that winning that first match at states was pivotal and, after Gartland emerged with a 3-1 overtime victory over Mt. Lebanon's Kellan Stout, he defeated Bethlehem Freedom sophomore Jake Young, 10-5, to ensure he was going home with a medal.
Chartiers Valley junior Noah Wilps was Gartland's opponent in the semifinals, and Wilps was up by a point with less than five seconds left in the match before Gartland suddenly caught Wilps and threw him on his back. Gartland went from being down 4-3 to winning 8-4 in a blink of an eye."That was, by far, one of the most exciting single matches that I've ever been involved with as a competitor or a coach,' Jacobs said. "I try to explain it to guys that (don't) necessarily know much about wrestling, I tell them that was the equivalent of our buzzer-beater. To score a takedown when you are losing with less than 10 seconds to go was a miracle.'
Gartland's improbable run ended with a respectful 7-2 loss in the state final to nationally ranked and two-time state champion Cody Wiercioch, from Canon McMillan. Gartland tore the meniscus in his other knee during the match, which means his lacrosse season may be in jeopardy. He finished with a 32-7 record on the year, giving him 105 career wins (one shy of the school record).
While he may take over the family business one day, that day won't be before Gartland tries college on for size. He's hoping to attend Bloomsburg University to perhaps study psychology, which was something that never occurred to Gartland before he left for Hershey.
"It's crazy,' Gartland said. "If I never did that... I was just going to be a boy that went to plumbing school with my brother until that happened. It's awesome.'