SOUTHAMPTON - The high school wrestling career of Council Rock South senior Cary Palmer could never be classified as typical.
While injuries caused the middleweight to miss his first two varsity seasons, he rebounded from his wounds to win back-to-back Suburban One National League (SONL) titles and two straight District 1 medals. His South East Region trophies - last year at 126 pounds and this year at 138 - earned him a place in states both seasons.
When Cary dropped a 4-3 decision to Moon Area junior Nick Acuna in a PIAA consolation matchup, that spelled the end of Palmer's high school career.
"It feels like you're dying," said Cary, of his final moments in Hershey. "Everything you worked for just went to nothing.
"It's a bad feeling."
After earning a third place medal in regions, Palmer started off in states with a 9-6 decision over Bethlehem Catholic sophomore Luca Frinzi.
Facing Bald Eagle Area junior Seth Koleno, Cary was trailing 4-3 early in the third period when the Eagles' wrestler caught him in a cradle, got points for a takedown and back-points.
With only 20 seconds left in the match and trailing 9-3, there wasn't enough time for Cary to catch up. In PIAA wrestle-backs, Palmer was winning 3-2 in the third period when Acuna got a reversal.
It meant the end of his career but 65 wins in two seasons is pretty impressive, no matter who you are.
"Some people might be happy with that but I feel like I didn't do what I was capable of doing," said Palmer. "Me personally, I'm not happy. It's not a good feeling.
"I'm definitely not satisfied."
In this case, Cary just happens to be twin brother to Riley Palmer, a three-time SONL champion, three-time District 1 champ and three-time SE Region champ. Riley captured a seventh-place PIAA medal as a freshman, returned to states two more times but could not make it back to the podium in Hershey.
With that said, Cary knows how tough it is to succeed at this level. And yet still, the outcome of his season has left him with so much angst.
"I think when I look back on it I will be (proud) but right now, I still have that feeling," said Cary. "It's still sinking in; I didn't meet my goals and my season's over."
Cary says he has decided on continuing his wrestling career at the next level. DelVal has expressed interest in his services, though Cary says he doesn't want to wrestle at the Division III level.
"I don't want to stay that close to home nor do I want to wrestle D-III," said Palmer. "I think I'm capable of doing D-I so that's where my mind is at."
Currently, he and his Golden Hawks coaches are exploring his options. Cary says he can't wait.
"I'm happy to see what's in store for the future," he said. "I think I have the capability of doing well - at least better than I did in high school."
With the Palmer twins departing Rock Way along with 132-pound PIAA champion Zack Trampe and 220-pound state medalist Joey Doyle leaving, a lot will change at CR South.
The four seniors committed four years to the program and the Golden Hawks were better off, for it. Other programs in lower Bucks haven't been so fortunate. Both Neshaminy this year, and Pennsbury, last season, saw seniors who had wrestled for three years prior, fail to return for their final campaign.
At South, it's all about the culture. That has a lot to do with the people you surround yourself with, says Cary.
"At South, the core guys - me, Joey Doyle, Zack (Trampe), Benny (Radner) and Riley (Palmer) - we all have goals and we push each other," said Palmer. "It's our lives.
"None of us would ever quit, much as we hate it sometimes."
Palmer experienced several of those moments during his time at South. Like freshman year, when he felt his right knee buckle in the wrestling room. Turned out he tore his meniscus and needed surgery. Sophomore year, Palmer broke his collarbone and again was a candidate for surgery.
Toward the end of that season, he got a couple of varsity matches in but not much. It all meant that Palmer was the oldest rookie on the mat as a high school junior.
"I was an upperclassman my rookie season so I was pretty much playing catchup," said Cary. "With wrestling, you need mat time and I was still trying to adjust.
"You need awareness in the match - what to do when you're in the circle, how to keep a lead. That's just stuff you learn over time with experience."
While he had double-digit losses last year, Cary had a pretty respectable season for a rookie, winning 28 matches, a SONL title belt at 126 pounds and taking a runner-up medal in districts. His fourth place medal in the South East Region tournament earned him a place in states.
This year in districts, Palmer pinned North Penn sophomore Eric Laughlin then majored CB West senior Ryan Tiernan. Last year in the district final, he lost to Pennridge senior Kordell Rush 4-2 in overtime.
Cary wasn't going to let that happen this season so he went out and posted a solid 9-5 decision over Academy Park senior Mohamad Kaba to capture the 138-pound D-1 championship.
"It was one of my goals so I was happy that I reached it," said Palmer. "But I was like 'I can't just be satisfied with this.' I also wanted to win a regional title."
At regions, Cary started off with an 8-3 win over Garnet Valley senior Nick Puliti, a two-time state qualifier. After dropping a close 3-2 decision to Conestoga senior Eric Hutchinson, he rebounded with decision wins over Owen J. Roberts sophomore Cole Meredith and, facing Kaba in a battle for third place, won this time, 13-8.
Trampe can tell you how hard it is to win a state title in Pennsylvania. He took second two years ago in the 126-pound bracket, then fell to sixth last year at 132 pounds. Hazleton senior James Hoffman posted a decision win over Trampe in last year's state semifinal and pinned Zack in this season's Bethlehem Holiday Classic.
In the PIAA 132-pound title tilt, Trampe got another crack at Hoffman and Zack posted a 4-2 decision win over the Cougars wrestler. For his part, Cary enjoyed watching all the drama unfold on the mat at Hershey's Giant Center.
"It was actually pretty special; we were all screaming for him (to win)," said Cary. "It was a really cool experience - watching one of my best friends win a state title.
"We were really happy for him."
Tied 2-2 midway through the first period, Trampe got an escape point before the buzzer and another in the second to go into the final frame up, 4-2. Hoffman took bottom throughout the third period and Trampe rode his opponent's back to victory.
"The best wrestlers are good at all positions, not just on their feet, not just on bottom, they're good on top, too," said Palmer. "You need the whole package if you want to be real good.
"That's what separates a lot of wrestlers."
What separates a lot of other wrestlers from this group at CR South is a willingness to work hard. Palmer exhibited that trait throughout his career and it certainly showed on the mat.