Chris Mary adopted a standing rule for Cody Wiercioch at wrestling practice.
Kind of had a literal application, too.
This past season, while Mary had the Canon-McMillan wrestling team running in a circle at practice, he watched in amazement as Wiercioch, trying to get a laugh from his teammates, hurdled backup 220-pounder Alec Rideout.
Wiercioch made it – but not before Mary’s heart skipped a few beats, flashes of a once-in-a-generation talent confined to a walking boot shooting through his mind.
“I had to stop and say, ‘Please quit jumping over people.’ ” Mary recalled. “ ‘How am I going to explain to the newspapers that you rolled your ankle jumping over our 220-pound backup?’
“We all just looked at each other like, ‘Who does that? Who can just jump over somebody?’ ”
At least one person anyway. And he’s the Observer-Reporter’s Boys Athlete of the Year.
Freakishly talented and athletic, Wiercioch also demonstrated the work ethic and the willingness to adhere to a team concept, traits that made him one of the most decorated wrestlers in Canon-McMillan’s storied program.
Wiercioch had a four-year record of 167-5 and won three PIAA wrestling championships, the first while he was a freshman at Charleroi. Overall he was a four-time state finalist.
What pleased Mary the most, however, was how well Wiercioch did within the team setting: He never lost a bout in the PIAA Team Tournament and helped Canon-McMillan to a record four WPIAL Class AAA Team Titles and five of a possible six championships in the PIAA Team Tournament over the past three years.
All of this while managing to jockey between three different weight classes.
“Looking back, our team had great chemistry together,” Wiercioch said. “We all worked hard in the room. Everyone was on the same page. Everyone knew what we had to do to get it done.”
Wiercioch has always been agile. As a middle-schooler, the Pitt recruit would do flips and other tricks on his family’s backyard trampoline. Later, as a way to supplement his wrestling training, he incorporated gymnastics into his workouts.
“A lot of kids get caught up on the wrestling part of the training,” Wiercioch said. “(The gymnastics training) really helped me.”
Over the past two seasons, Wiercioch didn’t give up a takedown in a varsity match and finished the year ranked No. 1 in the country at 170 pounds by Intermat.
“That’s two full seasons,” Mary said, still amazed at the feat. “You’re talking 100 matches. I’ll never forget his dominance, his smoothness out there. Cody was definitely a fan-favorite to watch.”
Wiercioch’s career included a Powerade classic his senior year against Kennard-Dale’s Chance Marsteller, a match that pitted the top two wrestlers in the country against one another in front of 3,000 fans in Canon-Mac’s gymnasium.
Wiercioch lost the match, 3-2, on an escape in the fourth overtime – his only high school loss that didn’t come against Travis McKillop of Burrell.
Oddly enough, Wiercioch’s favorite high school memory also occurred at Powerade: As a freshman, Wiercioch was unseeded in the 36-man bracket, yet he won six matches en route to the 152-pound title.
“I remember watching Powerade when I was in middle school,” Wiercioch said. “I wanted to be in that. To go there my freshman year, be unseeded, it was the highlight of my career.”
Wiercioch has been lifting three days a week and practicing at Pitt, enjoying every bit of the college life. He hopes to major in pre-med and one day become an Anesthesiologist.
It’s ironic in a way, when you consider that the rather sizable legacy Wiercioch left won’t be drifting away any time soon.
“He’s one of the most God-gifted, talented wrestlers to ever put a Canon-McMillan singlet on and wrestle in the state of Pennsylvania,” Mary said. “Kids did not want to wrestle Cody Wiercioch.”