Sheehan, Haines wrestle with varying challenges
HERSHEY -- Sunday was as nice a day as you will get in early March.
A nice day to get out the clubs and chase the little white ball.
Chances are pretty good Connor Sheehan broke the sticks out yesterday.
After he ate. And then ate again, the unbroken focus of a wrestler at the end of the season being food. And more food.
There's a good chance, hunger satisfied, Sheehan took the pre-Spring measure of Tanglewood Golf Club, his home course, yesterday.
"I love Tanglewood," he said. "And I work there (too). Or I hope I still do."
Sheehan took up the game in sixth grade when his father took him to the driving range to hit balls.
"I liked it, kept working and got competitive," he said.
Competitive enough to lead Solanco to the L-L Section Two championship this past fall with a section-best 73.4 stroke average, fourth best in the league behind Manheim Township's Ryan Dornes, Andy Butler and Craig Hornberger.
And the Golden Mule junior wrestles well enough to win 71 matches in, basically, two years.
He got a taste of varsity as a freshman, enough to win half his six matches.
He's won two L-L League and Sectional championships and won the 2013 District Three/Southcentral Regional championship at 106 two weeks ago.
He battled his way to the PIAA Class AAA championship final Saturday night.
That Greater Latrobe freshman Luke Pletcher prevailed 8-2 in that final does not detract from the fantastic season Sheehan put together.
The dichotomy between Sheehan's two athletic avocations is like night and day. And maybe the stark differences serve to energize him.
In wrestling you push yourself to your limit while pushing your opponent beyond his. The goal is to dominate, to conquer, to subjugate.
And you do it on the biggest stages, in front of thousands rooting for you. And against you.
"It's pretty crazy," Sheehan shared Saturday night. "I've never been under that many eyes."
In the solitary challenge that is golf there may be three other people watching you -- your playing partners. Most likely their attentions are inward.
The opponent is one's own limitations and one's self-imposed expectations.
Sure there are physical elements, like swing technique and body positioning.
But more things go wrong in the six inches between one's ears than the 400 yards -- plus or minus -- 'tween tee and green.
Much like wrestling where, beyond the fast-paced action and brutal physicality, the mental part of the sport overrides all.
Don't think wrestling is cerebral? It's what happens when a wrestler's opponent matches, then raises the intensity level.
Do he match it? Raise it back? Or, does he cave.
Such a moment came in the second period of Thomas Haines' 220-pound championship match with Boyertown's Jordan Wood.
Wood, with 46 victories and one loss, had put together an outstanding freshman year and seemed a credible threat to Haines winning his third state championship.
Haines would have to have been clueless not to notice.
"I was thinking of that, a little bit," said Haines. "Thinking I didn't want (him) to repeat what I did," said Haines, recalling his own freshman-year ascension from challenger to champion.
"At the same time, I thought, 'He's only got one loss. I want to introduce him to varsity wrestling.' "
Introductions out of the way, they settled into business as Haines got the first takedown.
Wood, ever so slightly startled, escaped, then escaped again in the second period to tie the match at 2. Then the moment arrived.
Off a restart, just after a stalling warning on Wood, Haines casually walked right into a single leg shot by Wood.
A mistake that, at this level, had the potential to be fatal.
Wood was energized and aggressively moved to score the go-ahead takedown.
Haines went into damage control.
"It was a pretty textbook defense," he said. "Just block on the outside. He didn't really do anything with it."
Then Haines tried to power his way to a better position. It only improved Wood's position.
"I should've just left it there. It would've been a stalemate," he said, thinking to himself: "Well, I'm in a little bit of trouble. I've got to start working."
He worked his way to a position that left him gaining control as the buzzer sounded at period's end.
His best chance lost, Wood yielded to Haines over the last two minutes as Haines scored an escape and takedown to ice his 7-2 victory, tilting Wood with 18 seconds left.
"There's different challenges each year," said Haines, who has transitioned from rookie to veteran to emeritus. "This feels better, actually."