JOHNSONBURG – With his 100th win and runner-up finish at the recent district competition in the books, Johnsonburg senior grappler Max Zimmerman is looking for further improvement as he heads into the regional competition today at Sharon.
Despite eclipsing the 100-win plateau in February, Zimmerman came into the sport relatively late.
"I think it was about seventh grade where I was pretty much set on joining the basketball team and Mr. DeLong at school mentioned something to me about wrestling, and he thought I should try it," Zimmerman said. "So I ended up trying it out and even though I thought I was a pretty decent basketball player, I ended up wrestling and I liked it a lot.
"That's pretty much how I started out."
Despite immersing himself in the sport later than most, Zimmerman is content with missing out during what potentially would have been his junior olympic years.
"I started later in life but I thought it was kind of nice-- I think had I started out earlier that maybe I would've been burnt out by now," Zimmerman said.
But the senior grappler never ran out of gas and recently joined the 100-win club at Johnsonburg with a win by fall over Clarion's Rick Elliot in a Feb. 17 match in his last dual meet at home.
""That's pretty much the highlight of the night, something everybody was waiting for and they knew the starting weight was 140 so he got to wrestle the last match of the night," said Johnsonburg head wrestling coach Tom Launer following the dual match. "I thought we had a pretty nice crowd, a lot of people came out to support Max [Zimmerman] and I told him before he came out, 'Max, you know it's an opportunity not a lot of kids get-- 99 wins and you're in your home gymnasium for your last dual match,' and I told him not to disappoint us.
"He went out there and got it done."
Several weeks removed from his magical night, Zimmerman said his understanding of the accomplishment has grown.
"Now that I've gotten it, a lot of pressure is taken off and a lot of weight is off my shoulders since I already accomplished it," Zimmerman said. "Now that that's over with, now I can focus on the regional competition and try to advance to the state tournament."
For District 9 wrestling, the top four finishers in the district tournament advance to the regional competition; from there, the top three go to the state tournament in Hershey.
Zimmerman found himself in the title match against Slade Horner of Ridgway; Horner topped Zimmerman 5-4 in the tiebreaker periods to win the 135-pound district championship.
At 4-all, the match went to the two 30-second tiebreaker periods. Zimmerman opened on the bottom and came close to securing a reversal but was unable to make the switch. Horner escaped with his chance at the bottom for the championship.
"Max, he wrestled a real good tournament," Johnsonburg coach Tom Launer said. "He lost in overtime to a really good kid. He's wrestling really, really well."
Since that match, Zimmerman has had time to recall the mat performance that took place in Clarion.
"It was tight the whole match and I gave up a few cheap points that were kind of stupid on my part," Zimmerman said. "Either way, it was a good match and right at the end there it was pretty close to a takedown but it just didn't happen.
"What I take away from that match is just knowing that I wrestled the whole match and I keep learning that you have to wrestle hard the whole time, and you just can't give up near the end even if it looks like you're not going to win, you just have to keep at it."
Looking ahead at regional action, Zimmerman aspires to advance at least to the semifinal round.
"I'd like to make it into the finals but if not, at least come back and wrestle for third place to advance to the state tournament," Zimmerman said.
As a junior, Zimmerman was ousted early in the 2011 regional tournament.
"I ended up losing my first match and then I ended up wrestling Ian Grecco from Brockway, and I had lost to him by two points in the 2010 districts, and that was pretty tough," Zimmerman said. "Last year, I was nervous going to regionals since it was my first time but this year it's even worse since it's my senior year and I want to make it as far as I can.
"I know that with all the hard work that I've put into this, there's definitely a good possibility for me to make it far into this."
Zimmerman's post-high school plans involve studying at Slippery Rock University for environmental science.
"I might try the intramural wrestling once in a while so this is really it for me for wrestling," Zimmerman said.
The star wrestler also fixed the spotlight on several individuals who have helped him with his high school wrestling career as the years have progressed, including Launer, Scott Payne, Ed DeCecchis, Mike Votano, Nick Cherry, Tony Casilio, Keith Guaglianone, Judd Zilcosky, and his mother, Misty Zimmerman.