HERSHEY >> The regular season did not look normal for any wrestler, during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for Pope John Paul II's Alan Alexander, his junior year was unlike many, if not any, others.
As one of four wrestlers on the roster in a season where regular season tournaments were canceled, Alexander was forced to constantly ad-lib. Friday, at the Giant Center in Hershey, Alexander's resilience was capped off with a sixth-place state medal at 152 pounds, in the PIAA Class 2A Individual Wrestling Championships.
"My goal for this year was to medal at states," Alexander said. "So the new set up made it nice to know that getting here, I already had a medal, so I could just wrestle."
Alexander opened his first trip to Hershey with a 9-0 loss to Laurel's Grant Mackay, who went on to win the title.
In the consolation bracket, Alexander scored the winning takedown in sudden victory against Chestnut Ridge's Luke Moore, to advance with an 8-6 win. For the second straight week, Alexander fell to Montgomery's Devon Deem, 7-0. In his final bout, Alexander couldn't get out from under and lost a 1-0 bout to North Star's Connor Yoder.
Alexander is the fourth state medalist for Pope John Paul II, a program that originated in 2010.
"I'm happy," Panthers' coach Chris Sheetz said. "We learned a lot about him this season and he learned a lot about himself. Unfortunately there were no tournaments this year to simulate the state tournament, and how to react and come back from losses."
Alexander wrestled his first two seasons with Boyertown, and finished sixth in the region as a sophomore, a win shy of states. In joining Sheetz and the Panthers, Alexander left one of the fullest and most competitive practice rooms in District 1.
That had its plusses and minuses.
"It was a lot easier staying focused because there was more coach to kid connection," Alexander said.
Alexander finished his season with a 16-7 record. His teammates' combined for a 5-10 mark.
"It gave us more time to focus on him," Sheetz said. "It gave us a chance to build each and every day. There wasn't many times we saw him do the wrong things, and if he did, we could correct it right away. It was a big help, but maybe it would've been good for him to wrestle another kid instead of just the coaches."
Entering his senior season, Alexander will be one of three returning state medalists in the Pioneer Athletic Conference, along with Boyertown's Chance Babb and Perkiomen Valley's Kelly Kakos, in Class 3A.
That first trip to Hershey sets Alexander up with some fuel going forward.
"It's definitely a little easier to stay focused, as opposed to have not achieving my goal," Alexander said. "It was definitely a successful season. I made a lot of improvements from last year, but clearly I still have things to work on. I definitely did a lot better than last year."
Sheetz, who won four state medals, including a state title, as an Upper Perkiomen wrestler, likes the progression he saw during his first season with Alexander.
"From not being ranked in the state at the start of the season, to ending top six, I think that shows the improvement we made all year," Sheetz said. "Hopefully he puts the work in in the offseason to be a state champ next year."