Roman’s big winner

Matt Gru­en­inger al­most quit wrest­ling as a fresh­man. Now the seni­or is one of the best at Ro­man Cath­ol­ic. Photo: RO­MAN CATH­OL­IC

When Matt Gru­en­inger got to high school, he wanted to try a new sport.

The Tor­res­dale res­id­ent, who com­peted in track dur­ing his young­er days, de­cided he wanted to give wrest­ling a go when he ar­rived at Ro­man Cath­ol­ic High School.

You’ve heard of be­gin­ner’s luck? Well, Gru­en­inger had the ex­act op­pos­ite.

“I hated it, I was the worst one on the team,” Gru­en­inger said. “I won five matches, but four of them were by for­feit. I didn’t win my first match (on the mat) un­til my last match of my fresh­man year. I wasn’t good at all.”

That vic­tory was a sign of things to come.

After the dis­ap­point­ing 5-20 sea­son, Gru­en­inger went right back to work­ing hard after the sea­son ended and the res­ults were ob­vi­ous.

He went 17-16 in his sopho­more year.

Then went 29-9 as a ju­ni­or.

The suc­cess is con­tinu­ing this year, as he’s now 20-4 with 11 pins at 152 pounds and now he’s the ex­act op­pos­ite of the kid who was tent­at­ive and al­most scared when he took the mat.

Now, he’s the lead­er of the Cahil­lites.

“It star­ted to feel bet­ter right after fresh­man year,” Gru­en­inger said. “I thought about quit­ting every day. I fell in love with the sport dur­ing my sopho­more year and the bet­ter I did, the more I loved it.”

This year, he’s been the lead­er of a Ro­man team that qual­i­fied for the play­offs and de­feated La Salle 46-24 be­fore fall­ing to Arch­bish­op Wood 49-19 in the semi­finals.

The loss ended the Cahil­lites’ quest for a Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship but Gru­en­inger still has high hopes for his sea­son.

“I think as a team, we had a good year,” Gru­en­inger said. “Ob­vi­ously, you want to win a cham­pi­on­ship but there are a lot of good teams in the Cath­ol­ic League. I think we came a long way this year.”

And Gru­en­inger’s ca­reer epi­tom­izes how much Ro­man im­proved.

“We have a good team, and this year was suc­cess­ful,” said Gru­en­inger, who has been a cap­tain of the team for the past two sea­sons.

The team suc­cess could turn in­to a great in­di­vidu­al sea­son for Gru­en­inger.

His ul­ti­mate goal is to make it to the state tour­na­ment in Her­shey, but to do that, he has to have suc­cess­ful show­ings at the Cath­ol­ic League in­di­vidu­al tour­na­ment, the Dis­trict 12 tour­na­ment and re­gions.

“I would love to rep­res­ent Ro­man in Her­shey,” said Gru­en­inger, who took third in the dis­trict tour­na­ment a sea­son ago. “It would mean a lot be­cause I love wrest­ling for the school, but also be­cause where I came from. I didn’t even think I’d be wrest­ling after my fresh­man year. I nev­er thought I’d im­prove that much, so that I could make it to the state tour­na­ment. That nev­er seemed pos­sible.”

Gru­en­inger has def­in­itely come a long way on the mat, but he’s been just as suc­cess­ful off of it.

This year, Gru­en­inger has been tak­ing classes at Holy Fam­ily as part of the Dio­ces­an Schol­ar Pro­gram. So far, he’s taken Cal­cu­lus 1, Cal­cu­lus 2 and Psy­cho­logy. 

At his high school, he’s a mem­ber of the Na­tion­al Hon­ors So­ci­ety and for his ca­reer, he ranks 13th in the school.

Next year, he’ll head to the Nav­al Academy with hopes of be­com­ing an of­ficer.

“A lot of my fam­ily has served, so I’ll go in for five years and go to school,” said Gru­en­inger, who is sched­uled to leave June 29. “It helps that it’s free. I hope to go in and come out with an en­gin­eer­ing de­gree.”

The Nav­al Academy is tough, but Gru­en­inger is used to put­ting in hard work.

Not only has he be­come an ac­com­plished wrest­ler and is one of the top stu­dents in his school, but last sum­mer Gru­en­inger be­came an Eagle Scout, the highest achieve­ment a Boy Scout can at­tain.

“My pro­ject was a movie night where I had an out­door movie (at Ma­ter­nity BVM), and in­stead of pay­ing money, you had to bring a dona­tion,” Gru­en­inger said. “We watched the Sponge­Bob movie be­cause I wanted to show a movie that would get kids and adults. We had a lot of dona­tions. It was fun and it was a good cause.”

Now, the only cause he is wor­ried about is leav­ing his mark on the Cahil­lites’ mats.

No mat­ter how he fin­ishes the sea­son, he’s had a re­mark­able ca­reer of im­prove­ment, and while it’d be nice to walk away with some medals, he’s proud of what he ac­com­plished.

“I wasn’t even good enough to wrestle (ju­ni­or varsity) when I star­ted, but I’m happy I stayed with it,” Gru­en­inger said. “I’m glad I didn’t quit. I had a great year with great team­mates and great coaches, and I’m hav­ing fun.”

A lot more than when he was a fresh­man. ••

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