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Written by Nate Heckenberger; published on January 14, 2020
Sammy McMonagle - West Chester Henderson
The life of a lightweight wrestler is not for the faint of heart.
Every spring a strong crop graduates, and every fall another strong freshmen class fills the void.
Waiting ones turn isn't an option in the deep depths of the lighter weights. After two fruitless trips to Hershey, West Chester Henderson's Sammy McMonagle did the only thing a determined wrestler could do: work hard, work harder and then work some more.
Photo by Nate Heckenberger
"You have to be self-motivated," Henderson coach Rob Beighley said. "The days you don't feel like doing it, you have to do it. You have to get on a good weight program in the offseason. You have to wrestle in the offseason. You have to keep adding to what you're good at. Everyone has devastating losses at states. Unless you're a state champ, everyone walks away unhappy. And Sammy was. He made a decision to add things to his game. He dedicated himself to lifting and he just did a ton of wrestling this summer."
The results have paid off, thus far, as the junior Warrior boasts a 22-0 record at 132 pounds. If not known by most already, his 3-2 win over Manheim Central's two-time state medalist, Will Betancourt, in the King of the Mountain finals, opened some eyes.
The individual postseason is still a month away, but the big wins don't mean as much as the progression McMonagle makes in his pursuit for a state medal.
"This year, not that there's pressure, it's just, I know that I can be there," McMonagle said. "It's just about performing when I get there. There's no pressure ever, it's just work as hard as you can and have fun. But obviously that's the end goal."
The circumstances inside the Henderson practice room are pretty much ideal for McMonagle, who gets to hone his skills against two-time state medalist, Killian Delaney (126 pounds).
Their differing styles force each other to become more well-rounded. After two years of being a weight lower than Delaney, McMonagle's growth spurt has him a weight higher than his senior teammate.
"He got a lot bigger," Delaney said. "Sam was always good, but him being up at a higher weight class and him keeping his speed, he's really developed as a wrestler. Freshman year he wasn't that built. I could kinda throw him around a little bit. Sophomore he started catching up. Junior year, now he's big, he's strong and he's finding a lot of his attacks and he's a lot more diverse in his attacks. He's now a challenge to wrestle in the room, so he's good to have as a partner."
"He's having fun because he's winning and he's winning because he's having fun."
McMonagle echoes the sentiment, and the hardware Delaney owns is surely a silent motivator.
"Having a two-time state medalist in the room is great," McMonagle said. "Seeing how both of us have grown since my freshman year. Working so hard in the room, pushing ourselves, beating each other up just to get better and get to the top of the podium."
From a trip to Romania to wrestle internationally to winning the Outstanding Wrestler award at the Steel City Duals out in Pittsburgh, McMonagle did not shy away from a chance to get better in the offseason.
Photo by Nate Heckenberger
In his first appearance at 126, McMonagle will face his biggest test since states at the Escape the Rock tournament at Council Rock South, this weekend. The fact that he's seeded 10th tells him, not only is it a very deep bracket, but there is work to be done in his ascension as a contender.
"I'm not really worried about the seeds, just wrestle my best match each match and see where it falls," McMonagle said. "I love these tough tournaments, seeing this great competition. It's gonna be great to see where I'm at now so I know where I'm at come postseason and come Hershey."
Sitting at 97 career wins (as of January 14), McMonagle will likely have a chance to join the 100-win club at Escape the Rock. Only Kyle Hauserman, of Council Rock North, has more wins in District 1's junior class.
What stands out from McMonagle's 97-18 record is his 28-11 mark in matches decided by decision. Out of 20 active wrestlers with 97 or more wins, only Hunter Catka of Sun Valley and A.J. Tamburrino of Hatboro-Horsham have better winning percentages in tight matches.
What McMonagle sometimes lacks in talent, he makes up for with sheer will.
"You always have to be looking to get better," McMonagle said. "I'm always putting as much as I can in. If I can't out-technique a kid, just work harder than him."
The wrestling season is long and grinding. Reaching the PIAA tournament is an accomplishment in itself. If you can get there, you give yourself an opportunity to catch greatness.
The easy thing is not to sell out, not to lay it on the line. When you pour your heart and soul into something, coming up short hurts tenfold. But you know the ceiling is only so high when you take the easy road.
McMonagle has been proven willing to empty his bucket, and that's all Beighley can ask for.
"It all started this summer with his work ethic," Beighley said. "One to improve on his feet, and two, to lift to get stronger and get bigger, and he did. He put the time in with the weights. He did so much off-season wrestling. He wrestled marquee guys and he beat some marquee guys. He just loves the sport. He's more poised, more confident and he's relaxed. He's having fun because he's winning and he's winning because he's having fun."
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