The list of state place winners in Eastern York wrestling history isn't extensive.
The highest place winner in the state competition was Alex Cooley in 2011-12 when he finished fifth.
But, if current senior Dakota Mackley has anything to say about it, he'll add his name to that list in just a couple weeks.
Carrying a team: In the realm of team sports, wrestling is one of the more individualistic ones. It's been Mackley's goal since the start of the year — perhaps even longer — to match the feat that Cooley set just a few years ago. First, however, he needs to get through this weekend and the regional competition, doing it with the weight of an entire school resting on his 170-pound frame.
As a team, the Golden Knights aren't particularly one of the best within the York-Adams League. They finished just 2-4 in Division II competition and 6-8 overall. But, individually, Eastern still had a few strong wrestlers that would shine night in and night out, despite the clouds that cast a shadow over a team with a losing record. Among them, is Mackley. He was one of four Golden Knights to qualify for last weekend's District 3-AA individual competition, but the only one who made it through to the third stage of the postseason — regionals.
So now, it's up to him to carry the torch for Eastern wrestling.
"My family is really rooting for me," Mackley said. "So, the pressure is on a little bit."
Taking a different path: Qualifying for the state tournament wouldn't be new feat for Mackley.
As a junior last year, he came up a match short from placing in the top-eight in the Class AA state tournament at 152 pounds. Coming that close but coming up empty only fueled Mackley's fire heading into his senior season.
Wrestling primarily at 160 pounds, he finished this season with an 19-2 mark and entered the Section I tournament as the No. 2 seed. However, rather than trying to navigate the much more difficult 160-pound bracket, he made the jump up to 170 pounds, figuring the bump in weight wouldn't be nearly as much of an obstacle as trying to get through the gauntlet of wrestlers at 160 pounds.
"It looked a little bit easier," Mackley honestly confessed. "I know it's not good to say, but (Susquenita's Dalton) Group is down there at 160 and so is (Boiling Springs' Travis) Wickard and those two are pretty hard hitters."
While avoiding the stiffer competition might be seen as a cop out, at this stage of the competition it's all about winning, not necessarily about who you beat. Plus, it's still not an easy task for Mackley to go into the toughest part of the season wrestling kids who are, without a doubt, stronger than him. But, to him and his coach, Dan Garner, the move was worth the risk if it means getting a state medal around his neck and certainly a tactic that, as a wrestler, Mackley has more than enough talent to back up.
"He has a wrestler's heart," Garner said about Mackley. "He pushes himself to the very limit. He's non-stop, one move into the next, complete action. He's relentless in his offseason workouts and he's someone when he sets a goal for himself, he can reach that goal."
So far, the decision to bump up a weight class has paid off for Mackley, as he took home a silver medal in last weekend's District 3-AA competition, losing to Northern Lebanon's Quinn Blatt in the final match.
At this point in the competition for Mackley, his raw talent alone isn't enough to get him into the state tournament. He's spending this week focusing on increasing his strength against larger opponents, as well as tightening up his techniques that potentially cost him a district gold medal.
Fulfilling a dream: Mackley has been wrestling since he was three years old and ever since he started his dream has been to place in the state tournament.
While that possibility is still a whole tournament away, he's in a prime spot to give himself a chance to do just that in his senior year. He'll enter this weekend's regional competition as the No. 2 seed from District 3 and needs to finish in the top six to qualify for the state competition.
But he doesn't look at it that way. Instead, he has plans on going to the championship match, all of it part of his long-term plan to set himself up with the easiest path toward a spot on the podium at the state competition.
"I've wrestled since I was three and ever since I was a little kid, it's been a dream of mine," Mackley said about placing in states. "So, it would really be awesome."
As for the grand scheme of the Golden Knights program, having someone like Mackley make it this far in the individual competition will only continue to bring it more and more attention.
"He's a great example for the program," Garner said. "His family has been in the program for a number of years and he's well liked by his teammates and some of the younger kids. We were a pretty young team this year and he's someone that they look up to and aspire to have the same success that he's having this year."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.