ROYERSFORD >> Every season concludes with the individual phase of the ultimate individual sport. Except this one.
This winter in Pennsylvania high school wrestling has always been different, specifically with the district and PIAA duals tournaments being held after the individual championships.
Then again, not everything is different.
No. 1 seed Spring-Ford repeated as champions, overtaking No. 3 West Chester Henderson 34-27 in the finals of the District 1 Class 3A Duals tournament held Saturday at Spring-Ford.
Spring-Ford, which downed Quakertown 49-21 in the semifinals, will host District 2 champion Delaware Valley in the first round of the PIAA 3A Duals tournament on Wednesday (7 p.m.). The semifinals and finals will be held Saturday at Cumberland Valley.
Henderson downed No. 2 Council Rock South 36-24 in the semifinals to achieve its highest district duals finish ever. CR South won the third-place match over Quakertown 35-27.
Numbers are usually very slim in the practice room late in the postseason as wrestlers are whittled down on the way to states. But that wasn't the case this winter with teams having to stay engaged in the month since their last dual meet.
That wasn't a problem for Spring-Ford says sophomore Quinn Smith, whose 9-5 win over Max Jackman at 126 pounds clinched the title for the Rams.
"We've been practicing every day, going hard every day, putting in the effort and the work," Smith said. "We don't know what other teams are doing; we're trying to do more than they're doing to get us on a higher level so we can win big matches like this one against West Chester Henderson."
Smith (12-3) hadn't wrestled a match for exactly a month after going out at sectionals but the Rams stayed fueled by the chance to repeat.
"Especially with winning the title last year, we were trying to clinch it up again, get back-to-back," Smith said. "But we stayed humble and made sure to work hard in the room. We were mentally in it, we were there to win and I think that also played a part in helping us win this title."
While Spring-Ford (12-0) features the two top wrestlers in southeast Pa. - PIAA finalists Joey Milano and Jack McGill - it takes a full team to win a duals title.
N.C. State recruit Milano dominated the field on the way to the 189-pound championship last Saturday, his third PIAA medal.
McGill, bound for Columbia, had a similarly great tournament but less joyful finish after seeing his 3-1 lead on Northampton's Jagger Condomitti evaporate with four seconds left before falling in the final 7-3 in overtime.
A fun week of practice with the full team was an antidote for any lingering letdown.
"I wasn't looking at like it was the state finals that I lost. I wrestled a good match the whole time besides the final four seconds I would say," McGill said. "I enjoyed myself there because I wrestled the way I needed to win, I just didn't finish it. I wrestled really well in my opinion and I think it's something I can definitely build off of in the future while continuing at the higher level.
"This week we had a pretty fun week of practice. With the team duals after the individual postseason it's a lot less stressful. It's fun to have everybody there this late in the postseason, being all together, playing games and just having fun."
That Rams got a great start in the final with Matt Offner's first-period pin at 145 - remarkably the sophomore's first career varsity win after going 0-2 in the regular season. Henderson senior Sam McMonagle, who placed fourth at 145 at PIAAs, answered with a technical fall at 152.
The Rams' leading upperweights also proceeded to bump up a weight. Zach Needles got caught for back points in the first period at 160 by Bobby English, but the S-F senior scored two third-period takedowns for a 9-8 win.
McGill and Milano had first-minute pins at 170 and 215, respectively, sandwiched around the Warriors' Koh Bauman's pin of Xavier Cushman at 189.
Wyatt Hampton's third-period pin at 285 got Henderson within 21-17, but Spring-Ford's two lowerweight Super Regional qualifiers Cole Smith and Dominic Ortlip silenced the Warriors' momentum with a respective pin and major.
Brien Wildermuth kept the final tight with a major at 120. But S-F's Quinn Smith put it to bed a match later, his decision giving an insurmountable 34-21 lead.
"I'm really happy about it because it was an important win for the team. If I win, we win the match and make it to team states, which would be awesome," Quinn Smith said. "During the match it was a lot of back and forth, I would get a takedown, he would reverse, etc. At one point my hips saved me when I almost got put to my back. When I got the final takedown it rushed in and I knew I clinched it for the team."
While Henderson doesn't advance, the Warriors were grateful to keep competing according to senior state qualifier Koh Bauman.
"We definitely wanted to get to states, but it was like the whole year where there were different requirements," Bauman said. "It was a cool experience because everybody was down to practice the extra weeks when others have had their seasons ended. Everybody was happy that they had the chance and that was really cool."
For wrestlers like Bauman who reached for Super Regionals - the equivalent of state qualification in a traditional year - but didn't get to compete in Hershey, the duals tournament offered a chance to go out on a positive note.
"It's definitely cool to be able to end in a good place in the regional finals," Bauman said. "That's really cool for us because we've never gotten there before."
By week's end Spring-Ford's season will conclude, too. But an extra week together, especially this unusual winter, is a welcome occurrence.
"We're all like brothers almost so it's really nice to finish together. And we have more matches to see how high we can get as a team," McGill said.