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Catching a bad break: Bedford’s Williams overcomes season-ending injury

December 27, 2012
By Todd Irwin ( , The Altoona Mirror

Tanner Williams was having a pretty good season last year. The Bedford junior was healthy after breaking the pinkie finger on his right hand before the first Chestnut Ridge match as a sophomore and just gutting it out the rest of the season.

He was 21-7 going into his PIAA Duals semifinals bout against Boiling Springs' John Vaughn, and he won that one, 3-1, but the Bisons lost, 40-24.

Williams, however, paid a bigger price.

While he did win, he suffered a compound fracture in the middle of his right hand, which eventually required surgery and five titanium pins that are still in his hand serving as a reminder. His season was done two weeks before the District 5 Tournament.

"I didn't want to think like my season was done," Williams said. "After I saw the trainer [at the Giant Center], Coach [Joel] Easter came over, and I told him what the trainer said. He yelled up to his wife in the stands and said 'He's done.' I just lost it. I didn't want to stop. I felt like I left my team down."

Even now, when he watches the bout on film, he can only guess when he broke the hand.

Fact Box

Tanner Williams file

n He's placed twice at the King of the Mountain, finishing eighth at 152 this year.

n He's 6-3 with three pins as a senior.

n He has a career record of 42-24.

"It had to be in the first period," he said. "I did a body fake, and he stepped forward and met my hand straight on. It went numb, but I had adrenalin pumping."

The way he was wrestling that season, which included placing at the King of the Mountain and the Thomas Subaru Tournament, Williams could have made a run in the postseason.

"Last year, he was wrestling really well," Bedford coach Brian Creps said. "I was really looking forward to see where he could go. He was gaining a lot of confidence. Down at the state duals, he was wrestling the best he had ever wrestled."

Williams would have been a favorite to at least qualify for the Southwest Regional Tournament by placing in the top three at the District 5 Tournament. Instead, he didn't even want to watch the district tournament, where the Bisons finished second to Chestnut Ridge.

"If I would have watched it, I would have wanted to get out there and wrestle," Williams said. "I just couldn't do it."

Williams has been wrestling since he was 5, but he really didn't become a consistent winner until he got to the junior high level. He admits that he wasn't into the sport until he got around a team, and then he fell in love with the sport.

As a sophomore, he went 17-14 wrestling at 145 and 152 pounds. Creps says Williams has come a long way since that year.

"You can really see the growth in him, not just physically but mentally," Creps said. "He's not panicking, and he's keeping calm. You see that growth in him, and that's important. When he was a sophomore, he was really excitable. He matured his junior season."

"I'm definitely learning to relax more," Williams said. "If I would lose a match, I thought it was the end of the world. Now, I learn from it, move on to the next match and take care of a business."

That business as a sophomore included that broken pinkie finger before the Ridge match. Creps said he kept his cast on for practice, but he took it off for live wrestling. And there was no question he would wrestle against Ridge.

"My parents said 'You need to go to a doctor.' and I said 'No,' " Williams said. "I won, and that was one of the keys to the match."

After his most recent break, Williams, who also runs track and field and cross country, kept his conditioning up, and he got back on the mat in May.

"It felt amazing," Williams said. "I missed it so much. I was a little rusty, but after a little bit, it was like I was back where I left off."

His conditioning is one of the things that sets him apart from his opponents.

"You don't worry about him running out of gas," Creps said. "His conditioning is as good as anybody in the state."

Williams, a team captain, is taking a 6-3 record into today's Boiling Springs Tournament, and he's the top-ranked 152-pounder in the first Mirror wrestling rankings. He placed at the King of the Mountain for the second straight year, taking eighth place. Earning a medal at the rugged tournament is tough, and it's even tougher to get two medals.

"So far, I've been wrestling pretty good," he said. "I wish I could have done a little better at King of the Mountain. Up at Young Guns, Coach Strittmatter says Iron Man and King of the Mountain are the best tournaments. Coach Creps said the same thing. It definitely tests me, and it shows me where I can get better."

If he can stay healthy, Williams will look for District 5 gold and a possible trip to the PIAA Championships. He also wants to get his team to the PIAA Duals again, but the big goal for wrestlers is to keep moving on in the postseason.

"I want to be a state qualifier, and maybe even a state placer," Williams said. "I think it's really possible for me because I know I'll work harder than all of my opponents in my weight class."

"I look for him to continue to get better," Creps said. "He didn't wrestle as much in the offseason as he did in the past, but I think he'll really come on here and wrestle well. He's really been scoring takedowns and opening up on his feet.''

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