After battling multiple injuries, Pine-Richland wrestler ready to ‘break some brackets’

Saturday, January 21, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Vaughn Spencer soaked in the moment after recording a pin in his first varsity match last week.

It’ll likely be the first of many pins in his Pine-Richland career, but it will always have a special place for the sophomore after what he’s gone through to get back on the mat.

Prior to his debut was an 18-month journey of injury, pain, rehab and mental exhaustion, while waiting for his chance.

Spencer had shoulder and knee injuries that kept him out his entire freshman year. He suffered a pair of concussions during football season that kept him out for the first part of his sophomore year.

After all he’s gone through, he savored finally getting his chance.

“It meant everything to me,” Spencer said. “Just being able to be with the team, wear that singlet and see all my family in the crowd was awesome. I can’t wait for many more moments like that. To finally be back feels great.”

Spencer was a nationally ranked freshman by FloWrestling and a Pennsylvania junior high state champ before the shoulder and knee surgeries. Through the rehab process, he had a setback with his knee but eventually healed enough to play football. His second concussion came during Pine-Richland’s WPIAL championship victory over Upper St. Clair.

Through it all, he leaned on his family, including his older brother and former Pine-Richland standout quarterback/wrestler Cole Spencer, to keep his spirits up.

“The mental side of injuries is something that probably isn’t spoken about enough,” Spencer said. “Wrestling was my life. Sports were my life, and losing that for over a year and half was brutal. It definitely took a toll on me mentally and emotionally, but my family helped me push through it all.

“When I was down with my knee, I really couldn’t walk on it, because it hurt so bad, but when he was back from college, Cole helped me stay in the loop. He was up at the (Pennsylvania Olympic Regional Training Center) learning from Jordan Burroughs and Mark Hall and even though I wasn’t wrestling, he showed me what’s new. I feel like a completely different wrestler. I look back at old matches when I did wrestle and I was so sloppy. I can’t wait to show people what I’ve been waiting to do.”

Once Spencer was cleared to return, his first objective was challenging Pine-Richland coach Caleb Kolb to a match. He needed a tune-up before he returned to competition, so he squared off with his coach the night before his debut.

“We did three two-minute periods,” Spencer said. “The first period, there weren’t any takedowns. It was all hand fighting. The second period, he chose down and I rode him out. Then in the third period, I should have chosen neutral, but we talked about it and I couldn’t go into Wednesday without wrestling on bottom. I knew it wasn’t the smartest choice, but I did it and he ended up turning me for back (points) and I ended up losing 2-0.

“I’ll get him. I keep saying I won’t be a state champ until I beat coach Kolb.”

Kolb said he won’t be able to hold Spencer off much longer and believes he’ll leave Pine-Richland a multi-time state champion.

“Vaughn is one of the best high school wrestlers I’ve ever gone against,” Kolb said. “I’m really excited. He’s an aggressive wrestler. His technique is solid. He’s very strong. You put all those things together and you have a special guy that’s going to do some amazing things at Pine-Richland.”

Spencer is wrestling with a knee brace, which he said is more of a placebo than a necessity. There is one thing he’s still getting used to about the brace, and it has nothing to do with comfort.

“The biggest problem I’ve had isn’t mobility but the smell,” Spencer said. “It’s hard to keep it clean wrestling seven days a week. I smelled it last week and it was rough. I knew I had to get that thing through the wash.”

Now that he’s cleared, Spencer is ready to go on a run. As he put it, he’s going to try and “break some brackets” this year. Eventually he wants to fulfill his dream of being a state champion.

“Hopefully this story ends in Cinderella fashion,” Spencer said. “I’m going to be doing my best and working hard to get that ending, whether it’s this year, next year or the year after. I’m very thankful I’m only a sophomore. I’m going to keep going to get the job done.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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