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Wickersham was best when it mattered most

Nate Wickersham has never let the moment get too big.

Whether his season was on the line, or his spot in the lineup needed to deliver a win, Wickersham was always up for the challenge.

“I think I really live for those moments,” said Wickersham. “My dad always tells me that he’s never seen anybody more relaxed for a big event than I am.”

His parents, Dennis and Missy, along with Tamaqua head coach Jim McCabe, have rarely seen a nervous Nate over the last four years.

Wickersham has been clutch for the Blue Raiders countless times during his career, and this season was no different.

He has found ways to come through with close wins when he needed them. And he’s bounced back from tough losses when there’s been no other option.

That mentality has been a driving force behind three straight trips to Hershey, the last two of which have ended on the podium.

This season produced his 100th-career win, his first postseason title at regionals, and his best finish at states, third.

And now Times News/Lehigh Valley Health Network Wrestler of the Year honors.

His run was almost cut short at districts, where only the top two wrestlers in each weight class advanced.

Wickersham suffered a 2-1 loss to Saucon Valley’s Dante Mahaffey, who ended up finishing sixth at states, in the Class 2A 215-pound finals, his first setback of the season.

His response? A 7-5 decision in sudden victory overtime against Notre Dame Green Pond’s Jason Sine in the true second-place bout after trailing by two points in the final minute.

“I knew it was going to be a tough match.” Wickersham said of Sine. “He was very strong, and very flexible, too. He was able to get out of some things that I would normally be able to score points.

“But just knowing what was going on throughout the whole match, and then at the end finally getting a takedown there, it was awesome. That was probably the most nervous I was all year going into the match.”

But Wickersham stayed calm and cool on the mat.

“That’s where the nervous Nate was gone, and the ‘I have to win this match Nate’ came back, and he didn’t care, and knew what was going to happen,” said McCabe. “That was the big difference in that match.”

Wickersham has embraced competition throughout his career. This season, nine of his matches were against state qualifiers a year ago.

“Whenever Coach McCabe asked me if I wanted to bump up a weight class to wrestle someone that’s pretty good, or if I wanted to go out against a kid if another team bumped him up to me, or do you want me to bump you away from this kid, I’m always ready to go, whenever the match is,” said Wickersham, who was second at the super regional tournament. “Whether it’s a Wednesday night, a Friday night, or at a tournament on Saturday.

“You can’t run from everybody. You’re always going to run into somebody who is good, so you might as well wrestle the good kids whenever you get the chance. I definitely think that helped me throughout the years, too, because we were in some really good tournaments my freshman, sophomore and junior years that really made me improve and focus on some things that definitely helped in the long run.”

Wickersham responded from a semifinal loss to eventual state champion Dayton Pitzer of Mount Pleasant with two wins to close out his high school career: a 6-1 decision over Knoch’s Eli Reese, and a pin against Savauri Shelton of Bermudian Springs in the third-place match at states.

None of that surprised McCabe, who got a glimpse of Wickersham’s resiliency as a sophomore.

“There were a lot of times in dual meets where we needed a pin, and he came through,” said McCabe. “I remember wrestling St. Joe’s Prep at Juniata Duals, and they had tons of studs, and we knew we needed a pin from Nate in order to win that match, and it was one of the last matches.

“He got put on his back, he fought off his back, got the reversal, and then put the kid in a pinning combination and pinned him, and we ended up winning the match because of that pin. But there he is, on his back in a tough situation, and he doesn’t give up, fights through it, and not only does he win, he comes through with the pin, which he knew is what we needed.”

Wickersham will continue his wrestling career at the next level and study mechanical engineering, though he has not decided on a college yet.

One thing is certain: Wickersham will make the most of it, just like he did at Tamaqua.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to do it anywhere else,” he said. “Great people, the program, everything. I’m very thankful that I was able to wrestle all four years here.

“Hopefully kids in the future go out for wrestling at Tamaqua, because there’s a lot of great opportunity there. I couldn’t have asked for a better four years.”