Stephen Struble's season is over. Mike Bakuckas' is just getting started.
Bakuckas is a great competitor. Struble is a great teammate.
Together, the Hammonton High School senior wrestlers exemplify some of the best values of high school athletics.
Struble didn't suffer a season-ending injury. There wasn't a heartbreaking loss, and there certainly weren't any disciplinary problems.
Bakuckas is one of the top wrestlers in the state. He won District 30 and Region 8 titles last season before going on to finish fourth in the state at 140 pounds.
Bakuckas came into the current season as one of the favorites to win a state title at 145, but a head injury put his senior season in jeopardy.
In comes Struble.
The senior, who started wrestling as a freshman and hasn't left the lineup since, filled in more than admirably for Bakuckas. Struble went 20-12 with 10 pins, two technical falls and two major decisions.
But Struble won't be shooting for a title Friday and Saturday at Overbrook High School in the District 30 tournament.
He'll be rooting for Bakuckas to win one instead.
Bakuckas was cleared to wrestle Feb. 8, but Struble had wrestled at 145 all season.
Nobody would have been surprised if an ugly situation developed when deciding who would wrestle at 145 in states.
That's not Struble's style.
"Halfway through the season, we heard Mike was having thoughts about coming back," Struble said. "Recently, we found out he was going to come back, and I was more than willing to let him take my spot."
Struble's selflessness is the exception, not the rule, in these days of me-first athletes.
"I think that was amazing," Bakuckas said. "That takes a great person to do. That makes me feel so much more important just knowing that I have someone behind me like that and that I have that kind of support behind me."
Struble wasn't certified at 140, so he couldn't drop down in weight. He also couldn't go up to 152 since Mike's younger brother, Phil (27-3), already occupies that spot.
"Michael is a great wrestler and a great teammate," Struble said. "He's had a great influence on the team. I was hoping he could make it to states again. I'm glad that he was able to come back."
Hammonton coach Dave Mauriello has never questioned Struble's character.
"Stephen is a tremendous young man," Mauriello said. "From the first day he entered our program, he's always been a team player.
"It's quite remarkable in this day and age to be that unselfish, but that's the type of kid he is. It was great to have him in there this season and he was able to get 20 wins, which is really an incredible season by anybody's account, and for him to want to let Michael achieve his individual goals is really an incredible attribute that Stephen has."
Struble didn't hesitate to give up his spot. In fact, he has been working out and wrestling with Bakuckas during practices this week to get ready him for the postseason.
Bakuckas came back in style with a pin Friday night against St. Joseph. He then had a forfeit win and two technical falls in a quad meet Saturday. He currently has 96 career wins and could eclipse 100 during the state tournament.
If Bakuckas finishes in the top three in districts and regions, Struble said he will be there at Boardwalk Hall to cheer him on.
"I am definitely going to go watch him," Struble said. "It should be a lot of fun.
"It's an amazing accomplishment that he was able to come back, and I'm glad to see that he was able to. I just hope that he does well. He looked good in his last couple matches, so hopefully he's able to go to states again."
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