Pine-Richland’s Vaughn Spencer finally slays injury bug to win state wrestling title

Saturday, March 16, 2024 | 11:01 AM

The morning of his state championship wrestling match, Vaughn Spencer was sitting in his hotel room, rubbing Icy Hot on his knee.

During his semifinal match the previous day, he got his knee twisted before finishing off a pin of Owen J. Roberts’ Sam Gautreau.

It was almost fitting that the Pine-Richland junior would have one last bit of adversity before the biggest match of his life.

Anyone who’s followed Spencer’s story knows he’s dealt with a multitude of injuries, from concussions to shoulder and knee operations, throughout his high school career.

In a sense, his balky knee served as a reminder of how far he has come, and he wasn’t about to let it stop him from winning PIAA gold.

And after a long road, Spencer finally reached his ultimate goal of becoming a state champion, defeating his good friend Bodie Morgan of Trinity via an 8-4 decision to win the Class 3A 172-pound title March 9 in Hershey.

“It was awesome to finally get it done,” Spencer said. “I’ve been dreaming about winning that medal since my youth when I was watching my brother (Cole) compete at the Giant Center. It definitely meant a lot more reflecting back on my last two years and how I haven’t been able to try and compete for one. Last year, I thought if I didn’t win it, I’d at least medal, but in the quarters, I blew out my knee, which was mentally defeating. With everything I’ve been through, it means a lot to reach my goal.”

Spencer became the first Pine-Richland wrestler to win a state championship since Scott Heim in 1982. He also clinched the single-season wins record for the Rams, finishing at 43-2, one win better than his older brother Cole, who now wrestles at Penn.

Dom Ferraro (139 pounds) also competed at states for Pine-­Richland. He won two matches but saw his tournament end in the consolation bracket.

Spencer, a Lehigh commit, admitted the sore knee was in the back of his mind before he took the mat for the championship match, but he didn’t let that overtake him. Instead, he motivated himself to push through it.

“Going into the match, I just kept telling myself, ‘It’s six minutes and you’re a state champ,’” Spencer said. “I taped it up. In that match, when I was on bottom, I couldn’t sit on my heels because my knee was hurting so bad. I was just glad I was able to pull it out. By no means was I trying to run the score up. I just wanted to leave the mat with my hand raised.”

To win the state title, Spencer had to beat Morgan in an all-WPIAL final. Spencer said Morgan is one of his best friends and the pair actually warmed up together each of the first two days of the state tournament.

Spencer and Morgan are members of the same club team, Quest Wrestling, and have been facing off against each other since their elementary school days.

“The first time we faced each other, I was in fifth grade and he was in sixth and we met in the semis, 12u state title,” Spencer said. “He beat me that day, and that’s the last time he beat me. We met again when I was in seventh grade and he was in eighth and I ended up beating him 9-3, and earlier this year, we met in the semifinals of the Fred Bell Tournament (at Grove City) and I beat him 8-2.”

Naturally there was a lot of familiarity between Spencer and Morgan, but Spencer said he felt his stamina made the difference.

“We’re really close and we’re always wrestling each other, so, going into the state final I knew his stuff and he knew mine,” Spencer said. “I knew it was going to come down to how I could perform at the end of the match. I know I have a gas tank and I could wear him down. That’s what happened. He got a little tired and I finished it off.”

In the couple days after winning, there was some time for reflection and appreciation for his path. He hopes to repeat again next year and leave Pine-Richland as a multi-time state champion.

With his never-give-up attitude, it’s hard to bet against him.

“It feels good to make all the people proud that supported me through all those lows,” Spencer said. “They never gave up on me. Looking back at those times, it would’ve been really easy to give up, and I’m proud I stuck with it.

“There were points in my career where I considered not wrestling anymore because my body was in pain and I couldn’t stay healthy for longer than three months, it seemed like, but now that I’m at the top of the podium, it feels great.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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