Big Spring wrestler Wyatt Keck has qualified for Districts the last two seasons for the Bulldogs, but his experiences this summer may serve as a sign of good things to come during his junior year this winter.
Along with 39 other Pennsylvania wrestlers, Keck traveled to Fargo, N.D., on July 18-19 to participate in the ASICS/Vaughan Cadet National Championships and left with a second-place silver medal at 125 pounds and is considered to be an All-American in Greco-Roman style wrestling.
The Pennsylvania Cadet Team had 14 total All-Americans placing and captured the National Team Title in Greco-Roman.
Keck went 6-0 on the first day of competition before winning two more matches the second day to advance to the finals inside the Fargo Dome against Jon Jay Chavez of California.
In the 125-pound finals, Keck and Chavez went scoreless through 90 seconds in the first period before going to the “clinch” – with one wrestle standing and the other on the mat – as it is called in Greco-Roman wrestling. Keck failed to turn Chavez over for the pin, which awarded the California grappler a point to win the first period 1-0.
Chavez gained momentum in the second period and had Keck reeling as he attempted to knock the Bulldog out of bounds to earn another point, ultimately winning the match by a 1-0, 1-0 decision.
“I tried defending it and he countered it,” Keck said. “He took me down, so he was up 1-0 and we went to the clinch after that. I was on bottom that time and I defended for 30 seconds, but he still won because he had that initial first point. That match easily could have gone either way.”
Keck was one of six Pennsylvania wrestlers on the team to advance to the finals in their respective weight classes. He said Greco-Roman helps improve his skills during the off-season from high school wrestling because some rules are different and it helps hones specific moves and poise on the mat.
After joining his Pennsylvania teammates for a weeklong training camp at University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, the team took a coach bus across the country to arrive at the Fargo Dome, a large indoor football field at North Dakota State University.
“It was tough,” Keck said of the experience. “It was a huge arena. It was just overwhelming. The competition was tough. These were some of the best kids in the nation wrestling there. I didn’t really expect to go as far as I did. I was the underdog; I wasn’t even expected to place out there. I just kept confident, acted like I had nothing to lose and proved to everyone what I could do.”
Keck qualified for nationals by placing second in the 130-pound weight class at PAWF States in May. He also went on to wrestle at the Northeast Regionals at East Stroudsburg, earning top honors as the champion at 130 pounds against grapplers from Maine, Massachusetts and New York.
Keck, who has been working with the same Greco-Roman coach from the past four years, Gino Frank from Mechanicsburg, has attended practice twice a week in Gettysburg and Chambersburg with his older brother Colten Keck, who won his 100th match as a Bulldog during his senior season at Big Spring, since the high school wrestling season ended.
Reflecting on the experience at nationals, Keck says he feels more confident in his abilities as he enters his junior season wrestling for coach Kemal Pegram.
“I feel like I did my best, just the set up that they had there – with only one mat running, the finals, all the attention on you – I think that got to me, but overall I think I did my best,” said Keck, who also earned funded access to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado as a reward for his performance in Fargo. “I’m definitely more confident in myself and I believe I can go far if I have the right mindset. I’m sure (my coaches) are proud of me and what I did out in North Dakota.”
Two years ago, Keck also qualified for another national team that competed in team-style duals in Indianapolis, Ind., he said.
Keck wished to thank his sponsors for making the trip to North Dakota possible, including Newville Wrestling Association, Funk’s Well Drilling, Blue Mountain Excavation, Graham Medical Clinic, Newville Auto Service, Turner Hydraulics and Lowell and Virginia Hassinger. It was their monetary donations that made his trip possible.