Eisenhower trio seeks signature finish at PIAA championships

Eisenhower wrestlers and coaches stand together following a historic performance at the Northwest Regional.

It’s already been a historic postseason for Eisenhower wrestling.

The Knights are hoping to make a little more history during the PIAA AAA State Wrestling Tournament beginning this morning.

For the first time, Eisenhower sent three wrestlers to Hershey, Logan Jaquay (113), Cael Black (195) and Joey Bauer (220). In another first for the program, two of those three (Jaquay and Black) won regional titles. Black’s 34 wins to date are a season-high for a Knights freshman. Additionally, Jaquay is just one win shy of 100 for his career.

“It’s pretty big, to be honest, to see three guys from here going (to states),” Eisenhower coach Kris Black said. “To send three guys, which we’ve never done before, I think that’s big for us. To finish seventh in the region, I think that was big. It’s exciting. We’re thrilled to be going and excited to see what happens.”

The wrestlers themselves, are simply focused on taking it one day at a time.

“Last year when I was there, I was so calm and relaxed,” Jaquay said. “It was just another tournament. I’m just going to try to keep it the same. Stay calm and take it one match at a time.”

“After getting to this point, the pressure’s off,” Bauer added. “I want to go down there and have fun. Like Logan said, it’s just another match.”

Cael Black agreed the nerves are gone at this point.

“I went down last year to watch Log medal and it was just awesome,” he said. “It was awesome to see him win the medal and hopefully we can get one. But there are no nerves.”

Though this is Jaquay’s second straight trip to Hershey, the three grapplers are so unique in their styles, it’s hard for Black and Bauer to gain much competitive insight.

“They’re kind of like their own entities,” coach Black said. “All three of them are really like their own planets just circling each other. They’re rooting for each other, but they really have different styles, mindsets, and ways they approach things.

“Logan’s very driven and he’s explosive,” he continued. “He goes after it all the time. Joe is everywhere. You don’t know where he’s going from minute to minute, but he finds a way to win. And Cael is real calculated. He knows what he’s doing and he knows where he wants to be. They really are their own entities.”

One of the benefits each will have is a preliminary round bye. Jaquay will face the winner of Tyrone’s Hunter Walk (So. 30-11) and Camp Hill’s Christian Doi (Fr. 29-14). Jaquay is also the only upperclassman in his quarter of the 113-pound bracket. The earliest he could potentially face another junior or senior in the championship bracket is in the semifinals. Jaquay faced General McLane senior Andrew Brest in the finals of all three postseason tournaments so far. Brest won the section title while Jaquay took home district and region crowns. If both were to win out, they could potentially meet in the state finals as well.

“The first time I lost, it didn’t really hurt me, but it prepared me better for the next two times,” Jaquay said. “I think it helped me prepare for (states) because he’s one of the best kids in the state and if I can beat him two out of three times, I think I can beat anybody.”

Conversely, Black is one of only two underclassmen in his entire bracket-the other is St. Joseph’s freshman Kolby Franklin (41-5). Black will take on the winner between Towanda’s Clay Green (Sr. 32-12) and Bentworth’s Jonathan Vargo (Sr. 26-6). At his weight class, Black is no stranger to squaring off with upperclassmen. In the region tournament, he knocked off a pair of seniors. In the quarterfinals Black picked up a stunning 33-second pinfall victory over District 10 champ Parker Harvey (Titusville), then went on to best Conneaut senior Austin Kelly in the finals with a 3-2 OT decision.

“It’s how it went all year,” he said. “Just take it one match at a time. Physically, I’m not quite there yet with the juniors and seniors. Technique-wise, I think I’m fine. There are couple solid guys (but) it’s just another tournament.”

Bauer’s first-round opponent is already set. He’ll take on Salisbury Township senior Jonah Niesenbaum (30-6). Bauer has already seen the best of the best in his weight class, having faced Greenville’s undefeated Jacob McMaster in both the district and region finals. While McMaster got the best of Bauer both times, the senior Knight was the only wrestler in either tournament McMaster didn’t pin.

“I’ve already wrestled the No. 1 kid in the state,” Bauer said. “It’s nice to know I’m not going to see anybody better than him. We’ll see how it goes.”

Aside from their own matches, each wrestler is looking forward to getting a first-hand look at some of the top talent Pennsylvania has to offer.

“You see a lot of guys ranked first in the nation down there and it’s fun to see them wrestle,” Cael Black said. “We don’t get to see a lot of the AAA guys either, so that will be fun.”

“It’s going to be the best competition, practically in the nation with PA wrestling,” Bauer added. “You get to go down and see where you’re at.”

Their coach had a bit of a different perspective.

“I’m most excited to see them wrestle on the big stage and see how they do,” Kris Black said. “Obviously, your goal to go down there is to get medals. I think as long as they go down there and wrestle the best they can, I’m happy about that. I think I’m just most excited about getting down there, wrestling some good competition, watching some good wrestling and being in the moment.”

In keeping with being “their own entities,” all three have a different view of what will make the weekend a success.

“I’d say (it’s a success) if you go down there, win a couple matches and feel like you deserved to go,” Bauer said.

“Just go down there and wrestle your best,” Cael Black said. “You win a medal, you don’t. If you go down there and you wrestle guys and you beat guys that are going to end up being on the podium. I think you come away happy with that.”

“I think the three of us should be able to come home with medals and I think that would be a good thing for the program,” Jaquay said. “I think it’s doable if we all wrestle our best.”

For coach Black, this experience is the culmination of something these guys began four months ago.

“The goal at the beginning of the year was to ‘Find a Way,” he said. “They got there, so now it’s just let it hang out and go.”