Valley wrestler David Schuffert works on mental approach to big matches

Tuesday, January 2, 2018 | 11:52 PM

David Schuffert can't fully explain the difference in the way he wrestled in a pair of tournament championship matches this season compared with the bouts leading up to them.

He just knows he needs to fix it.

Valley's standout junior heavyweight powered his way to the championship matchup at the season-opening Eastern Area Invitational Wrestling Tournament and last week's Southmoreland Holiday Classic. But once he got there, he dropped a pair of narrow decisions to Mt. Lebanon's Nathan Hoaglund and South Side Beaver's Bishop McCoy, respectively.

“I should have taken them, but the last two finals matches, I don't know. I was just nervous, I guess,” Schuffert said. “I feel weird. The first match, I'm out there 100 percent. (I'm) 100 percent all three matches. Semifinals match, I look even better.

“But once I get out there (in the finals), it's like, do I want to take this shot right now? What happens if I miss it? I'm trying to work past it. Hopefully I get it down pat.”

It's an unusual circumstance for Schuffert, who usually craves contact. An all-conference two-way lineman in football, he said he looked forward to the first day of padded practice because it meant he could start hitting. He also plays rugby, another sport where physicality is embraced.

“I like wrestling, football and rugby because you can just be physical,” he said. “There's no rules, pretty much. You can just go out there and be yourself.”

And Schuffert typically thrives at doing that. All six of his victories this season came by fall. His losses came by one and two points.

“He's very confident before he goes out, which I like,” Valley coach Dane Johnson said. “He might be a little nervous, but he doesn't really show it. He's always confident and calm, and he stays pretty level whether it's a big win or a big loss. He's very aggressive when he wrestles and physical.”

While Schuffert is working on the mental side of his wrestling in his championship performances, Johnson is focused on the technical: finding a go-to takedown move. Because many matches between top heavyweights are tight, low-scoring battles, two-point takedowns loom larger.

Schuffert believes he's finding a style he's comfortable with, although it's difficult for him to work on it. Valley's other wrestlers skew to the lower weights, leaving Schuffert without a consistent practice partner. He spends most of the Vikings' practices working on conditioning or practicing his shots against air. Former practice partner Matt Ashbaugh, a 220-pounder, is out with injury.

With no one available at Valley, Schuffert finds practice partners at the Mat Factory in Lower Burrell, where he works every Sunday with Pitt-Johnstown heavyweights Al Beattie — a former Burrell wrestler and state champion — and D.J. Sims.

“It's kind of tough (to be missing a practice partner) because I really just want to wrestle, just not run,” Schuffert said.

The frequent conditioning work is paying off in one way for Schuffert, who came into the season about 10 pounds over the alotted heavyweight limit of 285. He's down to the 260s now and hopes to drop to around 250 for the individual postseason in order to have improved speed.

A WPIAL Class AA runner-up last season, Schuffert has goals of making it to his first PIAA individual tournament this season. And he'll get a chance to test his championship mettle at this weekend's Westmoreland County Coaches Association tournament at Norwin, where he expects to be one of the favorites after placing third last season.

“I can't wait,” Schuffert said. “Hopefully (I'll) be in the finals again this week, wrestling better than I did last week.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.


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