South Side Beaver wrestler Shane Gentry is having fun again.
That was evident in his performance at last weekend's Chartiers-Houston Invitational Tournament, which marked the opening of the 2013 season.
"I let my nerves get the best of me last year," admitted Gentry, a 132-pound senior who has been a mainstay in the Rams starting lineup since his freshman year. "I was so concerned with the others in my bracket that I wasn't focussed on what I needed to do to win. I pressed too much and lost my confidence.
"It was clearly mental. It was something I had never experienced before. It was tough to deal with, but I learned from it."
Gentry entered the 2012-13 season as a two-time PIAA Class AA qualifier and one-time place-winner, but failed to make a return trip to Hershey after finishing sixth in the Southwest Regional tournament at 132 pounds.
"I was in the toughest bracket in the [WPIAL] Class AA tournament," Gentry said. "Some even felt it was stronger than the 132-pound weight class at the Class AAA tournament. We had the eventual state champion [Kittanning's Jason Nolf], the state runner-up [Keystone Oaks' Nick Zanetta] and the eighth-place finisher [Jake Wentzel of South Park].
Gentry finished fourth in last year's WPIAL tournament, then placed sixth in the Southwest Region, thus falling a win short of obtaining his third consecutive PIAA berth.
"I think Shane peaked at the wrong time last year," South Side coach Jerry McCoy said. "It's a long season for these wrestlers and sometimes that happens. He was killing everyone all year, then got in a funk starting with the WPIAL tournament. It carried over to the Southwest Regional.
"The brutal weight class he was in didn't help things."
Gentry made his varsity debut as a 125-pound freshman. He won a Class AA Section 1 title, then placed fifth in the WPIAL and fourth at the Southwest Regional, which earned him a PIAA berth. He lost two consecutive matches at Hershey and finished with a 38-11 record.
Gentry moved up to the 132-pound weight class as a sophomore and earned his second consecutive trip to Hershey by placing first in the section, third in the WPIAL and fifth in the Southwest Region. He then placed eighth at the state tournament and finished the season with a 43-11 record.
Last season, Gentry had a 38-6 record, which gave him a career record of 119-28. The school record for career victories was set last season by Nathan Reckner, who finished his career with a 147-26 record.
"My goal this season is to take every match one at a time and not look ahead," said Gentry, when asked about Reckner's school record for career wins. "Last year, I lost focus while looking ahead to possible match-ups. I can't afford to let that happen again."
Gentry used that strategy at last weekend's Chartiers-Houston tournament. He posted four victories in a row en route to winning the 132-pound title and was named the tournament's outstanding wrestler.
"I never did well at this tournament," Gentry said. "I placed third, fifth and third in my previous appearances. This year, I got my head on straight and came home with a gold medal."
Gentry capped his impressive performance with a 5-1 victory against Peters Township's Tyler Buckiso, a highly regarded Class AAA wrestler.
"Shane is more relaxed and really motivated this year," McCoy said. "He's having fun again. His attitude in the practice room has been incredible. I'm really proud of him."
Gentry would like to continue his career in college, but is more concerned with getting his degree.
"I want to major in mechanical engineering," said Gentry, who ranks among the top 30 students in his class. "My goal is to use wrestling to get the school and major I want."
Bucknell and Case Western Reserve are two schools Gentry has been talking with.
"Case Western has a great engineering program, but it's very hard to get accepted there," Gentry said.
Gentry began the season at 132 pounds, but has the option of dropping to 126.
"I'm seriously considering a drop to 128 [with the 2-pound weight allowance] for the postseason tournaments," Gentry said. "I've been watching my diet very closely, so dropping down is possible.
"I'll just have to wait and see how I feel later in the season."