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Better late than never: Ridge’s Knisely takes different path to stardom

Photo for the Mirror by Tami Knopsnyder Chestnut Ridge’s Duane Knisely is 39-3 so far this season for the Lions at 220 pounds.

Chestnut Ridge senior Duane Knisely is coming off of a Southwest Regional Class 2A Tournament in which he beat two of the top three wrestlers at 220 pounds in the PA Power Wrestling rankings in back-to-back bouts.

Knisely will be one of the favorites to win the weight class next week at the PIAA Championships.

Knisely has made up a lot of ground in his wrestling career in a short period of time. While some of his teammates started wrestling before they hit kindergarten, he didn’t pick up the sport until he was seventh grade.

“It just seems like yesterday that I had him in the corner of the varsity wrestling room teaching him a wrestling stance about four or five years ago,” said Ridge first-year coach Josh Deputy, who was an assistant under Greg Lazor. “Since then, he’s gone leaps and bounds, worked his tail off and he’s always had the right mental mindset to be great at this sport.

“I definitely wish I would have had more time,” Knisely said. “With our program, and the coaching staff being one of the best around, I feel like people are expecting me to get better after all the years in the program. But it’s definitely further than I would have expected going off my first year.”

Part of his rise to stardom in the sport is his athleticism.

A three-sport star in wrestling, football and track and field, Knisely will continue his track and field career at Penn State. He earned the silver medal in the discus at the PIAA Championships last year.

Asked what sport he liked the most, he said, “I usually perform my best in track. I’ve always enjoyed it a good bit. But wrestling has definitely been more rewarding over the past couple years.”

His athletic ability isn’t the only reason why he’s gotten so good. Knisely, who weighed nearly 240 during football season, is a powerful young man who was benching 365 pounds, squatting 500 and deadlifting 550 in the fall.

Deputy called Knisely a “gym rat.”

“He lives in the weight room all year-long,” Deputy said. “That’s kind of his hobby. He’s earned that power all on his own. It wasn’t a natural gift that he had. He’s unreal strong. He’s that type of kid where I always tell him that I’d love to grab a hold of him sometimes and shake him, but he’s too much of a man for me.”

“I’d say as an upperweight at 220, I’d say it’s definitely a big part what’s been able to help me out the past couple years,” Knisely said.

The sixth-ranked Knisely is 39-3 with 18 pins after beating Mount Union’s returning state runner-up Jake Ryan, 6-4, in the regional semifinals and Glendale’s second-ranked Cory Johnston in overtime, 3-1, in the finals.

“I’m definitely starting to perform my best,” Knisely said. “But compared to previous years technically and physically I’m definitely doing better than usual.”

Knisely came up to the varsity level as a freshman, went 15-21 and finished fourth at the District 5 Tournament at 220.

“It was a new experience being able to get tougher competition,” Knisely said. “I can remember my first match I lost, and it was an eye opener as to how different it was.”

“He was very raw,” Deputy said. “He really didn’t know anything. Seeing him beat kids now that pinned him four years ago has been a welcoming site. “

Knisely followed that season up by going 28-13 and finishing second at the district tournament at 220. He started showing some of his improvement.

“It didn’t end the way I wanted it to, but it helped me be motivated to push harder for the next season,” Knisely said.

As a junior, Knisely posted a 35-8 record, won his first District 5 Tournament title and finished second at the regional. He was set up to earn a state tournament medal. Instead, he went 1-2 in Hershey, losing by a point and getting pinned in overtime.

“It was a new experience, and I really wasn’t ready for it,” Knisely said. “I didn’t wrestle my best. I don’t know if it was nerves or it just wasn’t my weekend.”

With more motivation to become good enough to earn a state medal, Knisely worked on increasing his strength and honing his technique.

“I knew I was going to be better physically,” he said. “I got some practice in wrestling, but I knew once I figured out my technique, I knew I was going to have a lot better season than last year.”

Knisely, who is 117-45 in his career, likes to have fun at dual meets and tournaments. His coaches and teammates expect him to lighten the mood when it’s time – or even when it’s not time.

“He’s always having fun,” Deputy said. “There’s never a serious time with Duane. From the point he walks onto the mat, there’s usually some kind of joke or wisecrack coming out of his mouth right before he steps on the line. He’ll tell me my arms aren’t as big as his or we wish we were as strong as him. He’s fun to be around.

“We try to keep life in the room,” Knisely said. “It can get tough at times just because of the practice intensity and trying to keep everyone’s spirits up. We have fun with our coaching staff and the other teammates. We’re all pretty close friends.”

It wasn’t fun for Knisely when he unexpectedly lost to Brookville’s Nathan Taylor, 4-2, at the Ultimate Duals. Deputy and Knisely talked after that loss about not looking at rankings.

“It definitely was in my head a lot more at the beginning of the season,” Knisely said of the rankings. “Whenever I beat someone good, I’d always be checking and waiting for the updates. Ever since Brookville, when I took a loss, Dep told me he didn’t want me on rankings anymore and be worried about that stuff, so I don’t pay any attention to it. I feel like there’ve definitely been some rewards there.”

“Ever since he’s done that, he’s just been trending upward the whole last half of the season,” Deputy said.

Asked if he likes the challenge of facing top-flight guys like he did at regionals, he said, “I definitely do. “This year, I find myself not in tense or close matches. It’s not been the best competition, so when I do get that kind of competition at tournaments, I get to show people I can perform like I can against those kids.

“I can show that I’m up there with the best in the state. They’re harder matches, but winning them feels a lot better.”

Knisely and the rest of the local Class 2A wrestlers have this week off before heading to Hershey next week. He said he’s fine with having to wait for the state tournament.

“I like the idea of getting as much work in as I can,” he said. “I’m trying to be the best I can be in two weekends, I’m going to make sure I put in the work so I won’t have any regrets.”

What does the one-time newcomer to the sport think it will be like if he can win states?

“It’s been at the top of my mind all year because I know it’s possible,” Knisely said. “If it does happen, which I’m hoping it does, it will definitely be one of the better feelings I’ve had in sports overall.”

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