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Practice is taxing for Norristown’s Harner

Wrestling, if anything, is grueling.

Wrestling, if anything, is grueling.

Walk into any wrestling room, such as the one at Norristown, and you're smacked in the face with the palpable waft of sweat and exhaustion.

Wrestlers, such as Brett Harner and Shane Springer, are by turns working each other over, their clothes drenched, amid the thick, thick air; rolling, locking, breathing hard.

If they can endure the grind, the rewards could be plentiful.

Harner's philosophy: "If you're a state-caliber wrestler, why not practice like it?"

He should know. Two years into high school, Harner, a junior, has two PIAA Class AAA medals, placing eighth as a freshman and fourth as a sophomore.

He's just one of two Pennsylvania wrestlers in the class of 2013 to have medaled at states in their first two seasons. It's all well and good, but hardly matters if he doesn't get any better. Harner would be the first to agree. This year, he's thinking much bigger.

"Right now, the goal is simple: a state title," Harner said. "That's the only thing I'm really looking at right now."

Harner through two seasons: 101 wins, 16 losses; 51 wins by pin; a 152-pound Southeast Regional championship; two District 1 North gold medals; and the list kind of goes on.

This year, with Norristown sporting upper-echelon talent in several weight classes, Harner has perhaps the ideal practice partner.

Springer, a two-time state medalist himself, transferred to Norristown after three years at La Salle, where he was the state runner-up as a sophomore and took fifth as a junior.

Springer's Norristown ties run deep. He came up through juniors with Harner. His younger brother, Mike, is a sophomore on the team. His father, Chuck, is the director of Norristown P.A.L., a youth wrestling program.

"I don't think he transferred. I think he came home," said Mark Harner, Brett's father and Norristown's head coach.

Springer, who will wrestle at 170 pounds this year, is ranked No. 1 in the state by PA Power Rankings. He and Harner, at 160 this season and ranked No. 4, provide each other with a familiar if challenging training partner, the kind that can help them take those coveted steps up the podium in March.

"It's nothing new. I've wrestled Brett since I was six - I've hated it since then," Springer said with a laugh. "Why do I hate it? He knows me so well, and I know him so well. It's not really fun."

Turns out that's a good thing. It forces the two to work on new techniques and makes nailing their preferred moves in real matches easier.

Meanwhile, Norristown, last season's District 1 runner-up in team duals, touts several other standouts. State medalist Zach Fuentes should dominate at 108 or 113, Larry Gordon is one of the area's better 182-pounders, and Mike Springer is coming off a remarkable, 37-pin freshman year.

The schedule reflects the talent.

The Eagles don't have any nonleague dual meets, Mark Harner instead opting to take the team to several well-regarded individual tournaments, such as Beast of the East and Powerade, two of the toughest in the country.

"High-level competition can really improve your conditioning. No matter what I do in this room, the kids aren't leaving bloodied and battered," Mark Harner said. "You go to a tournament, they're bloodied and battered. When a kid gets done a tough match . . . it takes them 20 minutes to get their breath back."

It's the type of work that Brett Harner wants and needs. Last year, when he reached the bronze-medal match and lost, he was admittedly content.

"I kind of felt like, well I'm here," Harner said.

Improvements won't come without obstacles. Harner is battling a pervasive injury to his right knee.

Last March, he sprained his anterior cruciate ligament during the week of the state tournament. In September, he sprained his medial collateral ligament at a preseason tournament. He has dealt for years with chronic bursitis, causing flooding around the knee, which must be drained.

There's still much to look forward to. Ranked second in his class with a 4.67 grade-point average, Harner is garnering college interest from Harvard, Princeton, and Brown. Duke and Penn are possibilities, too. Springer is still unsure of what college will bring.

One thing he is sure about? State gold. Norristown's last champion was Ricky Springman in 1997.

"No one goes there and hopes to get fifth or third," Springer said.

Added Harner: "Keep trying to get to a higher level where I haven't been before."

It won't be easy. Good thing they have each other.

Contact Evan Burgos at