Falcon grappler learns fast
For almost a decade, Jonah Niesenbaum’s athletic career revolved around ice hockey.
But after nine years, Niesenbaum traded in his skates for wrestling headgear. Since the transition during his sophomore year at Salisbury, the Falcon junior has not looked back.
“By the end of it, I had a good ice hockey season and it was a pretty tough wrestling season my first year, but I just fell in love with it,” Niesenbaum said. “It is weird because ice hockey is my go-to sport and I’ve built a foundation there. But wrestling is so independent and so intense, and I love that.”
Niesenbaum juggled both sports as a sophomore. His days were booked from sunrise to sunset, having wrestling workouts and practices before and after school. Ice hockey took up much of his evenings, with tournaments and games on the weekends.
But after taking on the challenge of both sports last year, Niesenbaum fully committed himself to wrestling this season under second-year head coach Juan Garcia. It’s difficult to tell it’s just his second year wrestling.
The Falcon junior, who took an interest in the sport after some persuasion from his cousins, who both wrestled in college, is 11-5 this season for Salisbury. He split a pair of matches in a back-to-back on Saturday.
In his first week bumping up to 220 pounds from 195, Niesenbaum defeated Pen Argyl’s Kyle DiTaranto with a first-period fall. He then came up shy to Bob Fielder of Notre Dame (Green Pond), 8-6, in a sudden death ultimate tiebreaker.
“It felt like when I first started wrestling, the guys were just stronger than me,” Niesenbaum said following the Notre Dame match. “I’ve been lifting a lot. At 195 I was going to tournaments and throwing guys around. It was kind of like a throwback and I was like, ‘Woah, I have to start lifting more.’ But it’s also a different style. Some of those guys are really strong, but their cardio isn’t as good as 195 guys.”
Niesenbaum gave up around 20 pounds to Fielder in his second match of the day, a challenge he is getting used to as of late after bumping up a class. And while outsiders might question bumping up to 220 to face tougher competition, Niesenbaum realizes the benefits it will have for him come districts and hopefully beyond.
“Well I’m definitely bumping up next year,” Niesenbaum said. “What I have in my mindset right now is the postseason with districts. Those are all going to be pretty good guys, so I’m trying to wrestle the best guys I can so I can get practice.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Why would you bump up?’ I’m definitely going to get more out of it. I’m still a junior, so ultimately, I just want to get as good as I possibly can. I want to go as far as I can this season, but I want to be the best wrestler I can be because I have my senior year.”
Niesenbaum recorded an early takedown of Fielder, but faced a 6-6 tie heading into the sudden death tiebreaker with Niesenbaum on top.
Keeping Fielder on the ground would be too much, as he earned a reversal in the 30-second period to secure the win.
“Honestly that was probably one of the best matches I’ve wrestled competitively,” Niesenbaum said. “I’ve never gone to overtime like that before. I think there were a bunch of things that I could have easily done to win that match. Just tweak my shots.
“I shot with my head down once. On bottom I should have just stood up and got out a little faster.”
And Niesenbaum expects his skills to improve drastically over time. He works with Alex Nicholas (former Falcon wrestler now competing at Penn State) and Brandon Palik (a Saucon Valley grad and Drexel alum). Both weigh significantly more than the Falcon junior who spent most of this season at 195 pounds.
“It’s going to force me to get stronger,” Niesenbaum said. “I’m going to get used to working with these big guys. I’ll either be used to 220, or if I bump back down to 195 where I usually am, I’m going to be able to throw kids around.”
When districts roll around in late February, Niesenbaum is unsure if he’ll stay down at 195 or go to 220. But when the time comes, he’ll be prepared for either route that he chooses.