Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Heartbreak, triumph a guarantee at PIAA Championships

This column was originally published in the March 6, 2013 print edition of The Mercury.

Upper Perkiomen's Wolfgang McStravick
made his third appearance at the PIAA Championships.
(Mercury File Photo/Photo/Tom Kelly III)
HERSHEY – A history book on Pioneer Athletic Conference wrestling at the PIAA Championships would be a good read, perhaps the quintessential novel with chapters detailing the heartbreak and obvious disappointment of defeat, others explicating the excitement and elation of victory.

Then again, it would be much like the book written about nearly every league in Pennsylvania.
And, unfortunately, very much like the story or stories surely to be written about the PAC-10’s nine qualifiers competing on this week’s stage here at the Giant Center.

The current cast of characters in the PAC-10’s 27th annual series features Boyertown’s Eddie Kriczky and Jordan Wood; Methacton’s Tracey Green; Owen J. Roberts’ Derek Gulotta, Colby Frank and Gordon Bolig; Perkiomen Valley’s Nick Giangiulio; Spring-Ford’s Tyler McGuigan; and Upper Perkiomen’s Wolfgang McStravick.

Some of that crew may only make cameo appearances – lose twice today, head home and, like so many before them, not get much more than a line or two in the history book. Others may be around for all three days with win after win, by how much and how often no one knows for sure, but will nonetheless add a substantial storyline to the newest chapter, or become a principal part of it at the very least.

A few factors determine who leaves and who sticks around, though. Among them are a little luck of the draw, or who is wrestling who in the early going; who’s hot and who’s not; and, most important, who can step on a mat – in arguably the roughest, toughest high school wrestling tournament in all of America – with the confidence and determination to win.

“If you’re not ready to wrestle here you lose,” former Upper Perkiomen head coach Tom Schleicher said the day before his prized 103-pound freshman Brad Rozanski became the PAC-10’s first of two state qualifiers – the other being Phoenixville senior heavyweight Todd Van Horn – back in 1987.

Ready is one thing, armed and ready is indeed another, because for three days in early March, as it’s been in all of the previous 75 state championships, there are absolutely no gimmes here.

And respect is fleeting, so very hard to earn without win after win after win. Especially without at least one medal in hand.

McStravick can attest to that, perhaps better than any of the other eight PAC-10 qualifiers. This is his third trip to the season-ending spectacle and he owns just one win thus far. McStravick’s a senior now, but despite being a three-time qualifier with a gaudy 46-6 record and 152 career wins, he’s ranked 16th – the bottom – among those in his 132-pound weight class. And this afternoon he opens against a returning state medalist.

Gulotta and Bolig are back for the second time.

The 113-pound Gulotta, who a year ago joined a very short list of area freshman to win a state medal, is only ranked eighth. That’s because he happens to be part of a weight class that includes seven returning medalists (with a combined 11 medals), three of whom are nationally ranked. And he’ll open against a returning state qualifier today.

The 182-pound Bolig, who sandwiched a win in between losses to the eventual state champion and seventh-place finisher a year ago, is 45-5 with 125 career wins and only ranked seventh. Not bad, perhaps, but he starts his final appearance here against a two-time regional champion and state medalist.

Frank, Kriczky, Giangiulio, McGuigan, Wood and Green – despite all their years of wrestling and previous achievements – will learn rather quickly how nothing comes easy here, as McStravick, Gulotta and Bolig did before them, as McStravick, Gulotta and Bolig probably already told them.
The proof is in their brackets.

At 126, Frank (27-4) has an opponent with 116 career wins, and Kriczky (38-10) – who worked as hard and as impressively as anyone to survive this overloaded weight class at the Southeast Regional – debuts against a once-beaten freshman who surrendered just one measly point in winning four bouts and a regional title last weekend.

At 152, Giangiulio (36-3) gets a senior with 117 career wins. At 170, McGuigan (35-7) has to deal with an unbeaten regional champion and three-time state qualifier. At 220, Wood (43-1) – who has had to deal with the hype that’s already touting him as one of District 1’s all-time freshman greats – gets a returning state qualifier with 101 career wins. And at 285, Green (35-3) meets up with a seasoned senior with 102 career wins.

And all that is just for openers.

The reward for winning that first match is a spot in the even more pressurized quarterfinals, where another win would reserve a step somewhere on the medal stand on Saturday night. The consolation for losing that opener is a spot in the wrestlebacks, where the bottom line is win-or-go-home.
There may not be a more coveted medal in all of Pennsylvania high school sports than those presented every year here at the PIAA Wrestling Championships.

And there may not be a more intriguing read, year after year, than the next chapter on the history of Pioneer Athletic Conference wrestling at the PIAA Championships.


Rozanski’s debut as the PAC-10 first state qualifier to step on the mat in Hershey ended in a 12-1 loss to Nazareth’s eventual state champion Brad Silemperi – the head coach at Council Rock South. Rozanski didn’t qualify for states as a sophomore, but came back to take third as a junior and first as a senior. … Van Horn, now an administrator at Pottsgrove High School who helps out with the Falcons’ wrestling program, went 0-2. … Future PAC-10 members Boyertown and Methacton were also represented in 1987 by Jason Bonney and Eric Moser, respectively. ... This year’s nine qualifiers gives the PAC-10 an overall total of 217, with Upper Perkiomen (58), Boyertown (36), Spring-Ford (33) and Owen J. Roberts (26) alone accounting for 71 percent of the count. … Upper Perkiomen (25), Boyertown (13) and Spring-Ford (11) are the only programs with double-digit state medalists.

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OJR’s Bolig not one to shy away from a challenge

Owen J. Roberts’ Gordon Bolig grapples
with Nezar Haddad of Parkland in the
182-pound match at the PIAA Class AAA
Team Duals Tournament at Giant Center in Hershey.
Bolig won 3-1 in overtime.  (Mercury file photo)
This column was originally published in the March 5, 2013, print edition of The Mercury.

POTTSTOWN — No one was surprised to see Norristown’s Brett Harner and Owen J. Roberts’ Gordon Bolig advance through their 182-pound bracket and meet in Saturday night’s final of the AAA Southeast Regional.

No one was happier, either, than Bolig.

“It was good to wrestle him,” said Bolig, never one to turn down an opportunity to wrestle a good opponent.

Well, Harner is about as good as it gets. Pound for pound, he’s arguably the best in District 1.  He has 187 career wins, a total that could easily be higher if not for Norristown’s demanding schedule. He’s a three-time district champion, three-time regional champion, and three-time state medalist. He’s also nationally ranked.

“I wanted to see what he was like,” Bolig said. “I wanted to see what makes him so good. I sure found out.”

Bolig, who showed how dominating he can be with a quarterfinal pin and how clutch he can be with a thrilling one-point semifinal decision, was no match for the versatile Harner in the final. Though closer at times than the score may have implied, he fell behind 8-0 midway through the final period before three back points in the waning seconds closed out the 11-0 loss to Harner.

“He’s certainly tough on his feet, hard to get out from on the bottom, and you’re not going to ride him, either,” Bolig said of Harner shortly after receiving his silver medal and reservation in Thursday’s opening round of the PIAA Championships out in Hershey.

While Bolig doesn’t own as eye-popping a resume as Harner does, he is still quite the competitor. He’s come a long, long way since his freshman season, which ended with a rather abrupt exit from the Section Four Tournament and a mediocre 14-12 record. As a sophomore, he worked his way to the regional and more than doubled his win total with 32. Last year, he was golden at sections and districts, finished third at the regional to qualify for states, and again upped his win total to 34 before he was done.

This winter, Bolig has not only reached some lofty expectations but soared by a few.

The loss to Harner was only his fifth in 50 bouts. The first two occurred back in December at the Beast of the East Classic — one to two-time national prep champion and the nation’s No. 1 ranked Eric Morris of Wyoming Seminary, the other to two-time national prep medalist and Princeton-bound Troy Murtha of Georgetown Prep, Md. The other two setbacks were in mid-January at the Escape the Rock, both to Princeton-bound Nezar Haddad of Parkland, one of which he avenged with a sudden-victory win over Haddad during last month’s state team duals.

“A few times we thought about bumping (Bolig) around, but he always wants to go out and wrestle the best,” OJR head coach Steve DeRafelo said earlier this season. “That’s the way he is. He works so hard. He’s tough. And he wants to go against the best.”

Bolig will get an up-close look at Pennsylvania’s best later this week at states, where he debuts against Belle Vernon senior Adam Nickelson (37-2), the Southwest Region runner-up who was eighth in the state a year ago. Should he beat Nickelson, he’ll no doubt see Bald Eagle Area’s unbeaten and returning bronze medalist Jacob Taylor, who is one spot in front of Harner at No. 4 in the national rankings.
“Going out against all (the highly-touted opposition) doesn’t bother me,” Bolig said Saturday night. “I just know I have to wrestle well. Yeah, it makes you a little nervous, but I try to visualize the match warming up, then go out and attempt to hit my moves.

“This loss (to Harner) shouldn’t have any effect on me. Everyone knew he was favored, and everyone knows he’ll be favored (at states) with Taylor. I just know I have to get two more wins to get a medal. I won’t be thinking of this or any other losses when I get out there.”

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Boyertown's Wood living up to the hype

This column was originally published in the Feb. 28, 2013 edition of The Mercury.
There didn’t seem to be a wrestling soul anywhere in the area, or around the state for that matter, who hadn’t heard of Jordan Wood before he strolled into Boyertown’s practice room for the first time last November.
In other words, the 14-year-old freshman’s reputation preceded him… as did some rather lofty expectations, the result of his success in youth and junior high school wrestling.
Wood hasn’t disappointed anyone since, either.
Going into tonight’s opening round of the Class AAA Southeast Regional at Pottstown High School, the 220-pound phenom has proven time and time again there’s no noticeable chink in his wrestling armor. He has won 26 in a row since his only loss to Wyoming Seminary’s highly regarded Garrett Ryan during the Hurricane Classic at Bethlehem Liberty four days after Christmas. And that was no upset, mind you, not when considering InterMat’s No. 11 ranked Ryan was a state prep champion two weeks ago and the national prep runner-up to the almighty Kyle Snyder of Good Counsel (Md.) last weekend.
“There is still a lot of pressure (to win),” Wood admitted following Wednesday’s workout. “I push past that and forget about it when I wrestle.”
Easier said than done.
But Wood has done it, beating a combined 16 section, district and regional champions from a year ago. Add to that total a victory over returning Class AA heavyweight state champion Nazar Mironenko of Mifflinburg. And if that isn’t enough, he’s also gotten the best of nine other postseason medalists from a year ago, all of which adds up to a gaudy 40-1 record.
Not bad for a youngster who didn’t give up on the sport despite some unwelcomed challenges early on.
“I thought it would be cool to try (wrestling) when I was in first grade,” Wood explained. “I really started to like it after a few years. But I was always big for my age, so I started to wrestle some big sixth-graders, and for a couple of years it was tough. Then after I got the hang of it it became fun.”
Winning countless PJW and MAWA titles – as well as the junior high school division of the Super 32 Challenge two years ago — certainly helped make wrestling more enjoyable.
“A lot of my friends were older and I was always training with them, so I haven’t had that typical life of a 14-year-old (wrestler). I’ve done a lot of things related to wrestling that not a lot of others do. And it’s been fun taking trips all over the state and country to compete in wrestling tournaments.”
Yet as good as he’s been, Wood — the son of Jen and John Wood — felt he turned an important corner in his career this past summer while taking advantage of the open mats program at the Boyertown YMCA … and working out with a lot of Boyertown alumni and college wrestlers.
“They beat me up pretty bad,” Wood explained. “But it helped me a lot in getting ready for my freshman year. I picked up more mat awareness.”
Not to mention being focused on and aware of whom he shakes hands with right before the opening whistle of every bout. He realizes there are no guarantees, that a reputation doesn’t win any bout.
“I try to look at everyone like it’s going to be a tough match, like it could be my last match,” Wood said.
That’s why Wood isn’t looking beyond tonight’s opener, or a possible semifinal, or a potentially explosive final against rival Pat Finn or Pottsgrove, Tyler Callender of Council Rock North or, of course, an out-and-out brawl with defending champion Mike Boykin of Coatesville.
It’s an approach that puts his goals, as lofty as they may be, in perspective.
“My goals haven’t changed yet, I still want to win states,” Wood said. “And I can always keep working for more, especially being a freshman. But right now I just hope to win the regional title. I take everything step by step. I’m just aiming to be the best.”
* * *
If there’s someone who can relate to that step-by-step approach right now it is Boyertown teammate Gregg Harvey, another freshman who had some youth and junior high credentials of his own but was thought to be a year, perhaps two, away from stepping into the postseason limelight.
But the 152-pound Harvey is ahead of schedule after winning last week’s District 1-AAA West title and improving to 29-11.
“I’ve always known you can’t overlook anyone,” Harvey said. “But that doesn’t mean you can stop wrestling. I never stop wrestling. I just keep coming and coming.”
His aggressive (and often called funky) style helped him avenge two previous losses to Perkiomen Valley’s very good Nick Giangiulio in the district semifinals, and may have been the difference in his narrow decision of Upper Perkiomen’s Ray Young in the final.
His work ethic, from the very beginning, sure has helped, too.
“I was only 3 years old when I was out on the mat with my brother,” Harvey explained. “I was rolling around with some other young guys, including the Wertz brothers (Dylan and Jordan). I liked (wrestling) right away, and I couldn’t wait to get back to practice the next day.
“I think my work ethic has gotten a lot better the last few years, too. I feel stronger, and my endurance is a lot better than others right now.”
Few could argue with Harvey’s turnaround. He was up and down through the early part of the season, but has won 14 of his 16 times out — the only two losses a pair of decisions to 145-pound district champion Adam Moser of Owen J. Roberts and Giangiulio.
The recent flurry of wins have also enabled Harvey to update a couple of his goals he set out to reach in the beginning of the season.
“My main goal was to make it to regionals and get 25 wins,” he explained. “I thought they were realistic goals, too. I didn’t think I’d take first at districts, but I feel I’m peaking, at the top of my game since (the PAC-10 Championships). So now that I’ve passed them I’d like get a medal at states and have 35 wins.”
Either way, Harvey — the son of Elizabeth and Gregg Harvey Sr. — has considerably more to shoot for in the coming years.
“I’m very happy winning districts as a freshman,” he said. “That’s made me set some bigger goals for my sophomore, junior and senior years.”
* * *
Both Harvey and Wood, along with teammates Eddie Kriczky (126) and Cody Richmond (160), will be shooting for a top-three finish that would extend Boyertown’s current streak of 17 consecutive years with at least one state qualifier. The streak began in 1996 with Zack Miller’s fifth-place finish when the Bears competed in District 3. The school returned to District 1 in 2002-03.

Peaking PAC-10 showing strength in numbers

This column was originally published in the Feb. 26, 2013 edition of The Mercury.
All things are indeed relative, even in wrestling believe it or not.
In the past, there have been some great sectionals (well before this year’s switch to league championships). In the past, there have been some great districts (well before this year’s switch to a three-district alignment). And in the past, there have been some great Class AA districts (most notably when Octorara, Oxford, Phoenixville and Pottstown — just to name four — were much smaller and part of the bracket).
Yes, the weight classes have changed quite a few times, even the postseason schedule has been altered along the way.
And there have been good Pioneer Athletic Conference teams, actually great teams — most notably Pottstown, Spring-Ford and former member Great Valley early on, and Upper Perkiomen, Boyertown and Owen J. Roberts of late – that have stepped up and above the rest in their respective February fights, too.
But in the past two weeks, the PAC-10 — collectively, that is — just may have been the best it’s ever been.
Instead of split up and scattered among three different sections, nine of the schools were together as one for the District 1-AAA West Tournament. Pope John Paul II was off on its own for the District 1-AA Tournament.
None disappointed. More important, none looked any less competitive, or driven, than the other.
Forget the final results, forget as difficult as it may be, that Owen J. Roberts, Spring-Ford, Upper Perkiomen, Boyertown and Methacton were first through fifth, respectively, in the final team standings. Forget, as difficult as it may be, that those handful of teams — along with rivals Perkiomen Valley and Pottsgrove — accounted for 18 of the 28 finalists, 9 of the 14 individual titles, and 25 of the 42 qualifiers for this week’s Southeast Regional.
Those numbers are indeed impressive. As are a couple of others, as in 49 of the district qualifiers (nine freshmen, 21 sophomores and 19 juniors) — 18 medalists among that group — were underclassmen.
But no single statistic was as impressive as the PAC-10’s overall body of work from the moment the district grind started Saturday morning until it ended Saturday night.
There were very few blowouts, or lopsided losses — despite what otherwise were thought of as mismatches in the beginning. And after PAC-10 wrestlers took care of business against some very good, underrated opposition from the Central League, they renewed some heated in-house rivalries of their own. There were 36 bouts featuring PAC-10 wrestlers against PAC-10 wrestlers — including five in the finals and four in the consolation finals, the latter of which unfortunately would end the season for Spring-Ford junior Mason Romano and the careers of Spring-Ford senior Sean Hennessey and OJR seniors Peter Fratantoni and Tyler Rogers.
The 126-pound bracket was absolutely loaded, bulging at its collective talent seams. OJR’s Colby Frank got by two PAC-10 opponents, and decisioned Marple-Newtown’s highly regarded Ryan Flynn in the final. Hennessey ousted Pottstown’s Bryant Wise; then Boyertown’s Eddie Kriczky eliminated Methacton’s Al Ciccitto before denying Hennessey a trip to regionals with a 1-0 thriller for third place.
The 152-pound weight class may have best exemplified how competitive, or driven the PAC-10 was over the weekend. No one in their right wrestling mind would’ve envisioned Boyertown freshman Gregg Harvey let alone Upper Perkiomen’s Ray Young in the final. But there they were. Harvey edged once-beaten and top-seeded Nick Giangiulio in one semifinal, and Young pinned PAC-10 runner-up Frankie Krauss in the other. Giangiulio then took out his frustrations by eliminating Central League champion Dylan Glenn and Fratantoni — a legitimate candidate for the MVP at OJR because of his versatility and accountability, or his season-long ability to capably fill some gaping holes in his team’s lineup due to injuries and illness.
At 220 pounds, the PAC-10’s five entries were a combined 6-0 against Central League opponents in the winners bracket (7-2 overall), before Boyertown’s Jordan Wood outlasted Pottsgrove’s Pat Finn one more time, this one ending 6-5 in what may have been the absolute best final of them all Saturday night.
And while most people are quick to point out the glaring weakness of Class AA wrestling in District 1, keep everything in perspective for a moment and consider how rewarding it was Pope John Paul II.
The Golden Panthers, who endured a winless dual-meet season and had little to shout about, had just eight wrestlers on Saturday. Half of them medaled. Three — Conor Staples, Kirk Cherneskie and Josh Bildstein — were golden, and Aaron Cusatis took third to make it a foursome for the trip to the regional at Wilson (West Lawn) this Friday.
For a team that was shut out three times and barely got into double-digits in a few other matches against its PAC-10 rivals, there was still no quit … an admirable trait that, unfortunately, few outside the sport recognize let alone understand.
* * *
Congratulations are in order for The Hill School’s Johnny Cherneskie and Nick Flanigan, who were seventh and eighth, respectively, at 182 and 145 pounds.
Cherneskie (26-6), a post-grad who wrestled for both St. Pius X and Pope John Paul II, is the older brother of Kirk Cherneskie and the son of former Pottstown girls basketball coach John Cherneskie. He lost in the quarterfinals to unbeaten fourth-seed Isaiah Bellamy and in the consolation quarterfinals to eighth-seed Matthew Apuzi. Flanigan (36-12) regrouped after a second-round setback to Sky Walker with three straight wins before again falling to Walker in the seventh-place final.
Hill had one other entry, junior Chad Saunders (37-8), who went 3-2 at 132 pounds. Despite having just three entries, the Blues were 26th overall in the 75-team field.

Long live the wrestling league championships

This column was originally published in the Feb. 19, 2013 edition of The Mercury.
Upper Perkiomen’s Dante Steffenino wins the championships at 120 pounds over Spring-Ford’s Matt Krieble at the Pioneer Athletic Conference Championships over the weekend at Boyertown. (Photo/Tom Kelly III)
There was (actually still is) a lot of debate on District 1’s shift from sectionals to league championships to begin the postseason.
Some argued there was no need to abandon the six-section format — in place since 1974 (or since 1957 if you go all the way back to when sectionals began) — so history was certainly on their side. They even borrowed the old adage about not needing to fix something that wasn’t broken.
Some countered that argument with geography, or the lack thereof — grouping some teams in with others that really weren’t that close to one another. That, they added, may have been one big reason why most if not all the sections were losing money.
But maybe, just maybe, everybody overlooked, as they have so often in the past, the most important aspect of the issue — the wrestlers themselves.
What do they prefer? Or, to be more specific, what is more important to them, a section or league championship?
During last Saturday’s Pioneer Athletic Conference Championships at Boyertown, 15 wrestlers — five sophomores, five juniors and five seniors, all of whom competed in at least one previous sectional tournament — were asked that question. They were asked off the record, asked with the understanding their names would not be revealed.
The final count was 14-1 … a gold medal for winning their weight class in the PAC-10 carried a lot more weight than a gold medal for winning their weight class in a sectional.
Interesting, to say the least.
Student-athletes don’t make the rules, nor should they. But maybe — again, just maybe — it wouldn’t hurt at times to ask and listen to what they do have to say, and perhaps bring their thoughts and opinions to the administrative tables when changes are proposed and debated, before they’re enacted.
Wrestlers are, without a doubt, a rare breed. They lift weights, yet they watch their weight. They run mile after mile to build their endurance, yet feel totally exhausted after just six minutes of wrestling. They loosen up every joint and stretch every imaginable muscle, yet know full well any one of them could dislocate, break or tear the moment they step on that mat.
Because of all that, because of their commitment to a sport that still sadly pales in popularity to other major sports like baseball, basketball and football, a sport that offers little if any rewards other than an opportunity to compete in college, wrestlers deserve what is best for them.
So, after Saturday’s brief chats with 15 of them, seeing more fans in the stands than I’ve seen in the last 20-30 years of sectionals, and having the pleasure of sitting in on one of the most well-run tournaments I’ve seen in the last 20-30 years, I was convinced at least one league championship — with 10 teams all familiar with one another and competing in one place rather than splitting up and going off to one of three different sections — was a good move.
Boyertown High School – with its long list of workers, from ticket-takers and concession stand workers to scorers, bout-sheet runners and go-fers — was a host with the most. And Steve Perlstein, the athletic director at Upper Perkiomen who served as the tournament chairman, didn’t miss a beat keeping everything in order. That combination, along with making a big deal out of recognizing not only individual champions and medalists but a team tournament champion as well, helped make the change from sectionals to at least one league championship a great move.
And putting together a schedule that featured just a few brief breaks and a lot of continuous wrestling — complete with built-in rivalries — was not only entertaining, but a fantastic move.
A move that, hopefully, will remain intact for the future.

Excitement high for inaugural PAC-10 championships

This column was originally published in the Feb. 16, 2013 edition of The Mercury.
BOYERTOWN — For 26 years, Pioneer Athletic Conference wrestlers took turns beating up on one another during the regular season before most of them parted ways for the postseason.
This year, or today to be specific, everyone gets an opportunity to make yet another statement, or gets that coveted chance at redemption — and all in one place, in front of everyone else — when the inaugural PAC-10 Championships get under way this morning (9:30 a.m.) at Boyertown High School.
Unlike years past, when the postseason began and teams headed off into different directions, namely the Section 2, 3 and 4 as well as Class AA tournaments, all 10 will be poised to renew some old (and some new) individual battles that will dictate the top five in each class ... or who exactly will move on to next week’s district showdown.
The new district-wide format was discussed at length and later approved last summer by District 1 officials. Most if not all coaches, even the majority of fans, have since been very supportive of the change that replaces the six sectionals with the Bicentennial, Central, Ches-Mont, Del-Val, PAC-10, and Suburban One American, Continental and National league championships.
“I think it adds a lot of excitement,” District 1 Steering Committee chairman Dennis Kellon said last year when announcing the change.
That it does.
And perhaps nowhere more than in the PAC-10.
Considered, and rightfully so, the most competitive alignment in the district this season, this winter’s PAC-10 regular season was ruled by a very good and very balanced Owen J. Roberts lineup. It would be rather foolish to expect anyone other than OJR to pin down the team title today when all is said and done, too.
But it won’t be anywhere near as easy as all those jaw-dropping numbers the Wildcats produced en route to their second straight unbeaten PAC-10 championship. Today, as Owen J. Roberts head coach Steve DeRafelo said recently, will be an entirely different ballgame. Today, as Boyertown head coach Pete Ventresca said recently, will be a dogfight.
Today will be both ... if not more.
It wasn’t any surprise to see OJR, Upper Perkiomen and Boyertown each get three No. 1 seeds, or for Spring-Ford to get two. And the remaining three were divided up between Methacton, Perkiomen Valley and Pottstown. It also wasn’t any surprise to see OJR get an additional four No. 2 seeds, one more than both Spring-Ford and Boyertown.
Now what would be a surprise, actually a big surprise, is if all those premier seedings hold up. And that’s not to discredit any of those entries on the top and bottom of their respective brackets, either. It’s just that there is two very big quarterfinals and a whole lot of semifinals that could — that’s could — drop a number of those first and second seeds into the consolations.
One quarterfinal to keep an eye on could unfold in the talent-congested 126-pound weight class. Upper Perkiomen’s Dylan Steffenino, a state qualifier a year ago who hasn’t been anywhere near 100 percent this year because of an arm injury, has to deal with upstart freshman Al Ciccitto of Methacton in a pigtail. He needs a win to get Owen J. Roberts’ No. 2 Colby Frank (18-4), and that survivor will likely get Spring-Ford’s No. 3 seed Sean Hennessey (28-3). The upper-half of the bracket is no breeze, either, not with Pottstown’s Bryant Wise (29-2) and Boyertown’s No. 1 seed Eddie Kriczky (29-7).
The other quarterfinal is up at 195. Phoenixville’s Jordan Valenteen (23-5) gets Owen J. Roberts’ Brad Trego (22-13), a returning regional qualifier who has spent most of the last two seasons as a considerably undersized but game 285-pounder. The winner gets Boyertown’s top-seeded Jordan Wertz (28-9), who has been hot, hot, hot the past month. On the opposite side of the bracket is Methacton’s Mike Baccaro (27-4) and Spring-Ford’s Mason Romano (24-7).
It won’t get any easier at 132, either, even with Spring-Ford’s Adam Dombrosky opting to move up to 138. Barring any upsets, the semifinals should be physical scraps between Upper Perkiomen’s Wolfgang McStravick (37-5) and Pottsgrove’s Nico Demetrio (19-7), and Methacton’s Joe Staley (28-3) and OJR’s Dominick Petrucelli (26-10), who was as impressive as any of the Wildcats during last week’s PIAA team duals.
At 152, Perkiomen Valley’s top-seeded Nick Giangiulio (26-1) should get quite a semifinal test from Boyertown freshman Gregg Harvey (22-10). And if Owen J. Roberts’ Kyle Shronk (24-4) can stay healthy, a Giangiulio-Shronk final may be one of the most watched of the entire tournament.
And not to overlook anyone at 220, but Part One of what could very well be a District 1 trilogy — or consecutive league, district and regional final — will feature freshman phenom Jordan Wood (34-1) of Boyertown against super soph Pat Finn (21-2) of Pottsgrove.
The top seeds are Upper Perkiomen’s Dustin Steffenino at 106; OJR’s Derek Gulotta at 113; Upper Perkiomen’s Dante Steffenino at 120; Kriczky at 126; McStravick at 132; Dombrosky at 138; OJR’s Adam Moser at 145; Giangiulio at 152; Pottstown’s Darien Hain at 160; Spring-Ford’s Tyler McGuigan at 170; OJR’s Gordon Bolig at 182; Wertz at 195; Wood at 220; and Methacton’s Tracey Green at 285. ... Pottstown, which set a single-season school record with 22 wins this winter, also has a second seed in Jasheel Brown (145) and five third seeds — Logan Pennypacker (106); Robbie McCoy (113), Patrick Bohn (138), Sebastian Shiffler (152), and Jeff Slody (220). ... Pope John Paul II also has a second seed in Kirk Cherneskie at 182.
Pope John Paul II is the only Class AA school in the PAC-10, which means if any of the Golden Panthers’ entries place fifth or better they will be replaced at next week’s AAA district tournament by the next highest-placing wrestler in that weight class. ... The PAC-10’s five qualifiers and the Central League’s top six will line up for next week’s District 1-AAA West Tournament at Spring-Ford, where only the top three finishers in each weight class advance to the Southeast Regional at Pottstown.

Top 8 is great for OJR wrestling

This column was originally published in the Feb. 12, 2013 edition of The Mercury.
Owen J. Roberts’ Kyle Shronk, left, showed some serious grit through the PIAA team duals
tournament, wrestling through a shoulder injury to help the Wildcats
become one of the top eight teams in the state. (File photo by Tom Kelly III)
Central Dauphin, Canon-McMillan, Franklin Regional, Easton and, take your pick, either McDowell, Parkland, Owen J. Roberts or Delaware Valley.
Wherever your allegiance may lie, whatever wrestling intelligence you may be blessed to have, there’s absolutely no debating they’re the top eight teams in Pennsylvania this year.
Hats off to each and every one of them.
And that includes Owen J. Roberts.
No one in the Pioneer Athletic Conference except for Upper Perkiomen’s run in the early 2000s (and, please, no bickering about recruiting this or illegal that), and no one in District 1 except for Council Rock South’s run after that, has been as competitive or entertaining from the Southeast Region as Owen J. Roberts has been the past two seasons.
Last year, the Wildcats fell short of a medal, going 2-2. This year, without three leaders (Andrew Kinney, Mike Lenge and James Warta) who happened to be pretty darn good on the mats, too, or good enough for 100-plus combined wins in their senior season, the Wildcats fell short of a medal again, going 2-2.
But as unhappy and unfulfilled as the Wildcats may have been this time around, and as disappointed for them as head coach Steve DeRafelo and his staff were, there was also a sense of pride… in their performance against not only some of the best teams in Pennsylvania but arguably in the entire nation. And, most important, there was that pride in their resiliency, bouncing back from that first loss of the season — a one-point heartbreaker to Franklin Regional on Friday; and, in the end, the never-give-up stance they took throughout the second one — an uphill, five-point setback to Parkland on Saturday.
Unfortunately, that intestinal fortitude — or guts, as we’d prefer to call it — doesn’t show up in the scorebook or on the scoreboard. If they did, most if not all of the 28 matches contested from Thursday through Saturday would’ve been draws. No one gets to the Giant Center in the second week of February without that true grit.
And no one had more of it for OJR than Kyle Shronk, wrestling with a shoulder that pops more than a freshly opened Coca-Cola; Gordon Bolig, taking on a returning state qualifier instead of an opponent he likely would’ve easily pinned; and Dominick Petrucelli, showing some mighty mettle the entire time he was on the mat.
The difference in the scorebook and on the scoreboard in the Pennsylvania state team duals is talent — from 106 on up through 285 pounds — with match-ups and a wee bit of luck mixed in. Owen J. Roberts didn’t get many of the matchups it needed, and little if any luck. And the Wildcats didn’t quite match up with their opponents’ talent, though one-point and five-point losses aren’t all that convincing, or enough to suggest the final results would be the same from one day to the next.
The bottom line was that this year’s state team duals field out in Hershey was absolutely packed, maybe as strong as any in recent memory.
Upper Perkiomen, which even head coach Tom Hontz felt was a .500 team at best back around Christmas, represented itself, the PAC-10 and District 1 well by reaching the quarterfinals and finishing 2-2 overall.
Owen J. Roberts did the same, and also proved — without question — it was among the top eight teams in Pennsylvania.
Not bad.
Not bad at all.
* * *
Last week’s combined four wins and five losses in the PIAA-Class AAA Team Duals by Owen J. Roberts, Upper Perkiomen and Boyertown brought the PAC-10’s overall record in the state team duals to 21-28 — which broken down shows a 21-22 mark in AAA and 0-6 mark in AA. … Upper Perkiomen, with the most appearances, owns the most wins (13) as well as the most losses (8).