Heights’ Davis aims for first district title

Cambria Heights’ Joe Davis hasn’t had many problems getting to the 120-pound finals of the District 6 Class AA Tournament the last two years as the No. 1 seed as a sophomore and as the No. 3 seed as a junior.

The problem has been winning a district title.

Davis dropped a 5-2 decision to Bellwood-Antis’ Jared Woomer as a sophomore, and Ligonier Valley’s Josh Patrick captured his third district title with a 9-0 win over Davis last season.

When the district tournament starts Friday at the AAHS Fieldhouse you can bet that Davis will be a little more amped, a little more focused and more determined than ever to win a district title.

“I don’t want to leave high school without a district title,” Davis said. “I want to get a district title. It is a driving force for me. Losing those matches makes you want to push harder. I don’t think I wrestled my best match against Patrick. Woomer was a real tough kid.”

What hasn’t been there for Davis in the finals? One of the answers is that the opposition is better than in the early rounds, especially considering last year with Patrick, who was a three-time state placewinner.

“As far as what’s been needed, I can’t pinpoint it,” Cambria Heights coach Mike Eckenrode said. “I’ll tell you what, though, he couldn’t have worked any harder to get where he got. The other guys are competing to win also, and it doesn’t get any easier.”

Davis, who was 19-2 going into Monday night’s match at Ligonier Valley (Patrick has graduated), has a little more motivation as the postseason begins. He reached the semifinals of the Southwest Regional Tournament last season, but he suffered three straight losses – all by three points or less – to finish sixth, one place shy of qualifying for the PIAA Championships.

“That motivated me a lot,” he said. “I dropped three in a row, and it just hurt so bad. It made me work so hard so I could get back there.”

“It was disappointing for him and the program,” Eckenrode said. “Once you get to regionals, it doesn’t get any easier. But, we had our hopes up. We thought we’d get a couple guys through, and we didn’t.”

With that in mind, Davis worked hard in the offseason to get ready, lifting and doing some wrestling. His wrestling season, however, was delayed when he broke his leg on Oct. 4 in a football game against Penn Cambria. He said it happened when someone fell on his leg in a pile after he had just run the ball.

Despite not having played football since seventh grade, Davis went out as a senior and became the starting tailback and cornerback for the Highlanders.

“I didn’t play in junior high because I didn’t want to get hurt for wrestling,” he said. “I wanted to go out my junior year, but I didn’t want to get hurt, which is ironic. But, I didn’t want to look back and regret not having played football. I thought I was big enough [he was listed at 5-10, 160] and wouldn’t get hurt. I definitely didn’t expect to start. I thought I’d play a little bit.”

“I was totally devastated when I heard about it,” Eckenrode said. “We originally thought he’d be out for the entire season.”

Davis underwent surgery in which screws were inserted in the leg to hold the bones together. His doctor wanted to go in later and pull one of the screws out, which might have caused him to miss the season.

“My heart just dropped,” Davis said. “I love this sport so much, and I thought I’d miss the whole year.”

But Davis urged him to wait until after the season to get it done, and the doctor agreed.

“He said it would hurt anything, and it wouldn’t make it worse,” Davis said.

Davis was cleared on Jan. 2, and he was in the Heights lineup for the Central Cambria match a week later. He got a first-period fall that night, but he admits his conditioning wasn’t good at that point. Since then, though, his conditioning has gotten better. He’s been in some close bouts, suffering a couple losses outside of the district, and last week he knocked off Forest Hills’ returning district champ Triston Law, 1-0.

“That was a good win for him,” Eckenrode said. “Joe is non-stop all the time, but he still looks like he’s favoring that leg. It’s even changed his style of wrestling, but he’ll do the best he can.”

“Every week I can better and better and more in shape,” Davis said. “It’s more about staying healthy for the rest of the season.”

Davis, who is 95-26 in his career and is considering wrestling in college, possibly at Seton Hill or UPJ, will obviously be among the favorites to win a district title and, he’ll be a high seed when the seeds are released on Tuesday night. He got a good indication as to where he is in the pecking order when he finished third at the Thomas Subaru Tournament.

But, the Mirror’s top-ranked 126-pounder knows better than most that nothing is for sure.

“There are some tough kids at my weight,” Davis said. “[Richland’s] Adam George has been wrestling well. I beat [Jake] Boozel by a point. There’s [Matt] Wilson from Huntingdon. I beat [Ethan] Kennedy from Central by a point. Anybody can come out and win. I’m really looking forward to it.”

“I expect tough matches the whole way through,” Eckenrode said. “There are some decent kids at this weight. I expect him to win, but it won’t be easy.”