POTTSTOWN >> Dave Hoffman joked about how Jake Craig doesn’t display a particularly formidable or ferocious demeanor.
Physical appearances aside, Hoffman is quite happy to have Craig on The Hill School’s wrestling team in his first season heading the program. A standout wrestler at the Hill around the turn of the century, Hoffman knows he has a competitor of similar caliber in Craig, who came here after becoming a state champion in Maine.
“He’s exceeding expectations,” Hoffman said as the Hill’s Bissell ‘33 Tournament was wrapping up Saturday. “This is something that’s important to him.”
Craig gave the Hill its lone weight-class champion at 106. The freshman from Norridgewock blew through the bracket, scoring two pins and a second-period technical fall to come away with the gold in the eighth installation of this competition, which hosted a field of 13 other prep powers in the Hill’s Sweeney Gymnasium.
Craig opened with a first-period drop of Peddie School’s Pranit Aggrawal, following it by getting the slap at the conclusion of a semifinal bout with Tabor Academy’s Shaymus MacIntosh. The gold-medal clash saw him dispatch Green Farms Academy’s Caleb Seyfried with a “tech” 20 seconds into the third period.
“This is a great tournament,” Craig said. “I’ve been working on moves each match. It’s great preparation for states … a chance to use time wisely on the mats.”
Craig’s dominance on the mats last year included a third-place showing in the New England tournament. In his desire for improvement, enrollment at the Hill was a well thought-out decision.
“First, my brother Cody did a post-graduate year (2018),” he said. “Second was Coach Hoffman. I saw his resumé and knew I wanted to be here. And one of the bigger perks was being located in Pennsylvania. This a tough wrestling state, and you have to be ready.
“Pennsylvania (competition) is a huge improvement,” he said. “I love Maine. It’s great. But here there’s better competition…There are miniscule mistakes being fixed. When I came here, I was still raw.”
Craig’s only loss of the season, to date, was a decision to Troy’s Sheldon Seymour in the 106 finals of the My House X-Calibur tourney Dec. 16. He closed out the month of December with three pins and a gold medal at the Howdy Duncan Invitational in New Castle, Del.
Craig’s found the level of competition in the Mid-Atlantic region comparable to what he encountered in New England.
“There were some kids in Maine who gave me tough matches,” he noted. “It’s the same level of competition here.”
The Hill contingent had three other grapplers finish third in their weight classes.
Sam Beckett, a transfer from nearby Souderton, scored bronze at 138 with a 4-2 decision of Green Farms Academy’s Mikey Bartush. Derek Schmaeling and Will Henriksen scored their thirds at 195 and 220, respectively, both going 2-2 in the round-robin format.
“Some of the work we’re doing, we’re taking steps forward. There are also some (opponents) we let slip away,” Hoffman said of the team’s progression. “We’re getting better.”
Like Craig, Hoffman sees considerable benefit from a tournament the caliber of Bissell ‘33.
“Some of the teams we’ll be seeing down the stretch are here,” he said. “We have a couple tough ones ahead as we wrap things up.”
NOTES >> Another high finisher for the Hill was Kobe Simpson, who placed seventh at 145. Ironically, Simpson faced teammate Michael Stevens in the Top Eight bout. … Malvern Prep claimed the team championship, its 249.5 points well ahead of runner-up Germantown Academy (119.5). The Hill ended up fifth in the field. … Malvern’s Nick Feldman, capping his run through the 160-pound bracket with a 3-2 decision of Mercersburg Academy’s Aurelius Dunbar, was accorded the Bissell ‘33 Outstanding Wrestler honors.
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