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.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Methacton trio finds its way to Hershey

This column was originally published in the March 11, 2010 print edition of The Mercury.

HERSHEY – Rob D’Annunzio, Dan Cox and Brandan Clark all seemed to be heading in different directions this winter.

A.J. Maida didn’t need a GPS to find them, mind you. But the Methacton head coach would likely admit it sure was a bit of a dizzying experience keeping track of exactly where – and how far – they were going.

D’Annunzio didn’t just look unbeaten during the regular season, he won two tournaments (the Southeastern Classic and Buckskin Classic) and every one of his 27 bouts. And when he breezed through the Section Three tournament, no one would’ve have blamed him if he went ahead and reserved a room for states … until he lost twice and finished a shocking fifth at districts.

Cox, had some success but not a lot of it as a sophomore and junior … and was an anything but imposing 13-5 going into the last week of January.

Clark, as good as he’s been since stepping into the Warriors’ lineup as a freshman, always seemed to come up a point short here and there in the postseason … and this season, to make matters ever more difficult, he found himself locked in a 215-pound weight class that included two district rivals who were highly ranked nationally and five overall who were very highly ranked in the state.

Ironically, no one lost his way.

They crossed paths last weekend during the Southeastern Regional over at Council Rock North, where D’Annunzio was third at 103, Cox was fourth at 189, and Clark was third at 215 – finishes that earned all of them a trip to the PIAA Wrestling Championships in the Giant Center.

None of them, especially Maida, needed a map to get there for this afternoon’s opening round of the Class AAA spectacle, either.

“It’s kind of true how they all kind of took different ways getting to this point, too,” Maida said.

Especially D’Annunzio, who didn’t look at all like himself at districts and was oh so close to not even advancing to regionals.

“He just had a bad day, a bad weekend,” Maida explained. “And what he did at regionals, winning six times, was just amazing. You couldn’t do it any harder than he did. You can’t make it more difficult on yourself by doing what Rob did, by beating six other regional qualifiers.”

Most figured he wouldn’t be able to do it after getting decked by eventual champion Corey McQuistion of Rustin in the quarterfinals. But D’Annunzio marched through the consolations, first with a major and three straight one-point thrillers – the first over favored Alex Wait of Downingtown East, the second over District 1-North champion Dylan Steffenino of Upper Perkiomen, and the third over District 12 champion Mike McCall of Northeast Catholic.

“He went 4-0 on Saturday, and that says a lot about the kid,” Maida said. “He was a like a little ball of energy. He wrestled with a lot of confidence, and even though he finished up with three one-point wins he looked dominant.”

Cox, who wrestled every one of his bouts as a sophomore and junior at 285 – all 71 of them – worked a lot of pounds off his frame and was at 189. And his goal this season, to be a regional qualifier, wasn’t anything extraordinary.

“But something clicked with Dan after he (pinned) the Plymouth-Whitemarsh kid (Sam Morrison) in the section final,” Maida explained. “He began wrestling with a lot of confidence.”

That’s been evident the last month and a half. He hasn’t lost to anyone other than regional champion Council Rock North’s Jamie Callender, regional runner-up Andre Petroski of Springfield-Delco, and Pioneer Athletic Conference rival Zach Heffner of Boyertown – who defeated him in the third-place final last Saturday night.

“He hasn’t lost to anyone whose name isn’t Callender, Petroski or Heffner in a long time,” Maida said. “He’s had just a phenomenal season. It’s been masked a little bit. It’s been a quiet but amazing season for Dan.

“He’s truly an over-achiever. He’s taken his set of skills and applied them to his work ethic …and he has truly achieved because of it.”

Clark’s work ethic could never be questioned.

“Brandan’s motor never stops,” Maida said. “He eats, sleeps and breaths (wrestling). He’ll out-work anybody. He just has that unquenchable appetite. You put something in front of him and tell him it’s going to make him a better wrestler and he works on it, and works on it as hard as he possibly can.”

As a freshman, Clark was golden in Section Three but saw his postseason drive end the following week at districts. As a junior, was golden in Section Three and District 1-North but saw another postseason drive stall after just four bouts at the Southeast Regional.

“When Brandan first came up as a freshman I had a coach come up to me and say, ‘Clark looks like he could be a state champion someday,’ “ Maida recalled. “He may well be before he’s done. For two years we felt it was just a matter of time before he got to states, but when you get to be a junior you begin to ask yourself, ‘When, when, when?’

“This year, I just don’t think he felt he was going to be denied. Some people suggested he go up to 285, that he may have an easier time there because of all (the talent) at 215. But I never had that conversation with Brandan. There are a lot of great wrestlers at 215, but that’s his weight class, too. Those other guys have to contend with him, too. Brandan’s that talented.”

As talented as D’Annunzio and Cox proved as well.


Part 1: Name the District 1 wrestler who won sections three times and districts twice, but never won a regional title nor advanced to states only to go on and become an NCAA Division II national champion.

Part 2: Name the District 1 wrestler who won sections once – his only postseason title – and never qualified for states before going on to become an NCAA Division II national champion.

See the answers at the end of the column.


At 103, D’Annunzio (39-3) opens with Canon-McMillan freshman Connor Schram (38-4), the Southwest Regional runner-up. A win will likely get him a quarterfinal with New Oxford’s Jordan Conaway (38-1), the Southcentral Regional champion who has had a week’s rest.

At 119, Boyertown’s Matt Malfaro (38-5) starts with Indian Valley’s Kaleb Loht (31-6), who was third at last week’s Northwest Regional. A win could give him a quarterfinal bout with Liberty’s Anthony Marino (29-7), who dropped a 6-4 decision to Boyertown teammate Jeremy Minich in the season-opening Bear Duals. Another win there would likely mean a semifinal showdown with Meadville’s Shelton Mack (37-1), the Northwest Regional champion.

At 125, Minich (30-7) happens to draw Bellefonte’s unbeaten Mitchell Port (41-0), a two-time medalist and three-time qualifier who is picked by most to get to the final.

At 135, Boyertown’s Alex Pellicciotti (41-4) starts with Lewistown’s Jake Schultz (30-6) and, barring an upset, will likely see Derry’s Travis Shaffer (29-3) in the quarterfinals. And should he get past Shaffer, he’ll have a semifinal shootout with Cumberland Valley’s Shawn Greevy (20-2), the Southcentral Regional champion who was injured during the Beast of the East Classic and had to forfeit (medical) his final two bouts, one to Pellicciotti.

At 145, Pottsgrove’s T.J. Demetrio (29-6) makes his debut against Warren’s Curtis Delattre (34-7), who was third at the Northwest Regional. … Spring-Ford’s Kyle Duffy (28-8) goes up against West Allegheny’s Aaron McKinney (36-4), the Southwest Regional champion.

At 160, Spring-Ford’s Matt Krueger (31-9) meets Central Dauphin’s two-time defending state champion Peppelman (46-0), who hasn’t lost a bout in over two years and is ranked No. 1 in Pennsylvania and, believe it or not, in the nation as well.

At 189, Boyertown’s Zach Heffner (35-9) starts with Greater Latrobe’s Eric Shaffer (37-2), the Southwest Regional champion. If he can pull the upset, next in line will likely be Cory’s Mike Pollard (42-1), the Northwest Regional champion. … Cox (30-9) gets Crestwood’s Mike Mirra (37-6), the Northeast Regional champion who pulled out a 4-2 decision over Cox during the Buckskin Classic back in December.

At 215, arguably one of the most stacked brackets, Clark gets Connellsville’s defending state champion Nate Gaffney (40-2), who was stunned in the Beast of the East Classic final by Garnet Valley’s Matt Idelson (who was eliminated at districts two weeks ago). If Clark could pull a similar upset, he’d likely get East Pennsboro’s unbeaten Zach Nye (36-0) in the quarterfinals. … Owen J. Roberts’ Scott Syrek (32-5), who was sixth here last March but is battling an assortment of injuries, has to deal with St. Mary’s unbeaten Sean Sadosky (33-0), who was seventh here last season.

Also at 215 – in Class AA – St. Pius X senior Josh Rogers (27-5) will go for the first state-tournament win ever by a Pius qualifier when he opens against Forest Hills’ Jeff Meier (34-6), who was fifth in the Southwest Regional.

At 285, Pottstown’s Will Carter (30-4) makes his debut against Clearfield’s Andre Buck (27-8), who was third at the Northwest Regional. A win by Carter could mean a quarterfinal battle with Susquehanna Township’s Averee Robinson (34-2), the Southcentral Regional champion.


Part 1: Pennsbury’s Roger Sanders won three Lower Bucks Section titles (two at 154 pounds, one at 145) from 1958 through 1960 and two District 1 titles in 1958 and 1960, then went on to capture the NCAA Division II title at 157 pounds in 1964 while attending the then West Chester State Teachers College.

Part 2: Upper Darby’s Ron Sheehan won the Section One title at 180 pounds in 1969, then went on to capture the NCAA Division II title at 167 pounds in 1974 while attending the then Bloomsburg State Teachers College.


Pelliocciotti hoping for another go against Dziewa

This column was originally published in the March 10, 2010 print edition of The Mercury.

BOYERTOWN -- Alex Pellicciotti doesn’t want to hear about being oh-so-close. And don’t dare mention moral victory this or that, either.

The frustration of not being able to beat Council Rock South’s Josh Dziewa was never more visible than last Saturday night, shortly after the Boyertown senior lost a 1-0 decision to his Iowa-bound rival in the 135-pound final of the AAA Southeast Regional.

“I thought I could’ve done better,” Pellicciotti mumbled, clutching the silver medal that was absolutely no consolation for him. “I didn’t do anything. I just didn’t do anything.”

It may have been more of Dziewa just not allowing him to do anything.

Pellicciotti is good, very good … arguably one of the best lightweights this area has ever seen with his combination of strength and technique and, most important, blue-collar work ethic in the practice room. His skills have helped him win sections four times, districts three times, and regionals once. His will to succeed has helped him erase some enviable entries in Boyertown’s record book, like wins in a season (48), career pins (88), and career wins (166), and he needs just one more pin this weekend to break the Bears’ single-season pin record, too. He also owns a pair of state medals.

That’s quite an impressive resume.

But Pellicciotti would like to add to it this week during the PIAA Championships in the Giant Center at Hershey.

Add as in getting to the final and beating Dziewa … for the first time.

“I’m disappointed because I thought I could’ve done better, a lot better,” Pellicciotti said of Saturday night’s showdown against the once-beaten Dziewa. “I just didn’t wrestle like I thought I could.

“I had the mindset to (win) and I didn’t. That’s what is so upsetting for me now.”

Pellicciotti has been beaten just four times this season. His first two – 5-3 and 11-2 during the semifinals and consolation finals, respectively, of the Beast of the East Classic back in December – were to Long Branch (N.J.) senior Scott Festejo, who capped his career by winning the state title at 135 pounds last weekend in Atlantic City. The other two losses have been to Dziewa.

Dziewa, who opened the season ranked No. 1 in the country and is now No. 2 or No. 3, depending on what poll you care to choose, got the best of Pellicciotti in a 4-1 thriller during the state duals last month. Pellicciotti came very close to a takedown and back points in the bout, but Dziewa worked out of it and, for the most part, was in control the rest of the way.

Last Saturday night, in a rematch of their 2008 regional final (also won by Dziewa in a 7-2, double-overtime heart-thomper), the only scoring was Dziewa’s escape at the one-minute mark of the second period.

“You always wanted to get that first takedown,” Pellicciotti said. “But getting through the first period (0-0) didn’t get me upset. I thought it was a good period.”

What frustrated Pellicciotti was his inability to escape Dziewa’s ride throughout the final two minutes.

“I just couldn’t get my hips out,” he explained. “He stayed tight to my hips and didn’t give me any room at all. I can handle him with my strength, but he’s just one of those guys who is so hard to beat. Things didn’t work out.”

For now.

Thursday afternoon, Pellicciotti (41-4) begins his bid for a third state medal against Lewistown’s Jake Schultz (30-6). Should he survive that bout, he’ll likely get Derry’s Travis Shaffer (29-3), the Southwest Regional champion.

And if manages to get to the semifinals, most predict he’ll see Cumberland Valley’s fifth-ranked Shawn Greevy (20-2), the Southcentral Regional champion, who was injured during the Beast of the East Classic and had to forfeit (medical) his final two bouts, one to Pellicciotti.

The other half of Pellicciotti’s bracket this week features Dziewa, of course. And either Dziewa or Central Mountain’s Jordan Rich (34-2) – who was fourth a year ago – are likely to end up in the final.

Pellicciotti would like nothing more than getting to the final … and seeing Dziewa one last time.

“I definitely want to meet him again,” Pellicciotti said. “It’ll be another day, another tournament … who knows.”


There’s been a lot of hullabaloo over Pottsgrove’s T.J. Demetrio of late, and rightfully so. He became the school’s first regional champion – and first state qualifier – in 18 years last weekend by winning the 145-pound bracket at the AAA Southeast Regional.

What some of his own fans may not have realized is that he has just two losses since going 4-1 in the Chichester Duals back on Jan. 16 … two losses he has avenged.

Demetrio dropped a 4-3 decision to Pennridge’s Dylan Moore during the semifinals of the Section Two Tournament before recovering to finish third.

The following week, he took care of Moore by a 6-2 margin in the semifinals before dropping a 5-4 decision to Norristown’s Brandon Parker in the final of the District 1-North Tournament.

Last Saturday night, he took care of Parker with a dominating 8-3 decision in the regional final.

A junior, Demetrio was just 8-4 on the season when he returned home from those Chichester Duals. He’s 21-2 since.

Demetrio will have a chance to match Chris Beasley’s school record of two regional titles next season and also become Pottsgrove’s first two-time AAA regional champion. Beasley was golden at 152 pounds in the AA Southeast Regional in 1991, and golden at 160 pounds at the AAA Southeast Regional the following year.

The only other regional champion at Pottsgrove was Mike Meko (1974).

And with 76 career wins going into the state tournament, Demetrio (76) – along with teammate Zach Robinson (90) – will have a chance next season to join both Beasley (112) and Ryan Michaels (103) as the only Falcons with 100 or more career wins.


The 215-pound weight class, as expected all year long, was loaded at the AAA Southeast Regional last week. And for those who may think otherwise, consider this – Conestoga’s Greg Gruschow, an absolute talent, didn’t get out; Pennsbury’s Kevin Bree, who hadn’t even lost until the district final the week before, didn’t get out; and the behemoth from Bonner, Marcus Collins, didn’t get out.

Souderton’s Joe Stolfi, Oxford’s Nick Ruggear, Methacton’s Brandan Clark, and Owen J. Roberts’ Scott Syrek, who finished first through fourth, respectively, did. A formidable foursome, no doubt, but joining them in Hershey will be an equally formidable foursome – Connellsville’s defending state champion Nate Gaffney (40-2), who opens against Clark; Selinsgrove’s returning runner-up Spencer Myers (40-0); Bald Eagle Area’s Jon Gingrich (27-4), who was fourth a year ago; and St. Mary’s Sean Sadowsky (33-0), who was seventh a year ago and opens against Syrek.

And the AAA state brackets’ weight class with the best winning percentage – 215 pounds (the 16 entries are a combined 534-49 this season).

Hold on now. It doesn’t get much better, or easier, in Class AA, either. And that’s where St. Pius X senior Josh Rogers happens to be situated.

Rogers (27-5) opens against Forest Hills’ Jeff Meier (34-6), who just may be the only unknown in their half of the bracket. The others? Well, there’s Burrell’s Brian Beattie (42-4), Montoursville’s Nick Dawson (31-5), Union City’s Jared Burger (44-1), and Fairfield’s Dylan Ferguson (14-4), who were fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth at states a year ago. There’s also returning qualifier Todd Hall (37-7) of Athens … and they’re all bunched up with Rogers in the bottom half of the bracket. What makes it even more interesting is that Beattie and Ferguson meet in the first round, as do Dawson and Burger.


League collectively overachieves

This column was originally published in the March 9, 2010, print edition of The Mercury.

Confession time, or admitting that some of us — a handful or so of justifiable wrestling wackos, a coach or two and, of course, a few media types — were way off the mark in predicting five, or six tops, would survive the Southeast Regional grind last weekend. That’s five, or six tops, from the Pioneer Athletic Conference.

And that was just in AAA.

Talk about double your pleasure plus one (thank you Josh Rogers).

The PAC-10 sent 30 of its best to the AAA regional over at Council Rock North, another four – Rogers and three of his St. Pius X teammates – to the AA regional up at West Lawn. Advancing 13 of those 34 (that’s 38 percent for the math minds) may not warrant a brash collective strut all the way out to Hershey later this week. But considering it’s one of the league’s largest gang of state qualifiers, well, they have definitely earned the right to put a little oomph in their step.

Especially when considering the one team in the league that has set the standard for both qualifying and medaling in the PIAA Championships – Upper Perkiomen – doesn’t have anyone among the 13. And that isn’t a knock on Upper Perkiomen, far and away the Pioneer Athletic Conference leader in state champions (5), medalists (25) and qualifiers (52) but a program beaten back a bit this winter by youth and injuries.

Not at all … just a testament to how well everyone else did.

Exactly one-third of the PAC-10’s qualifiers at the AAA regional had to open in those dreaded pigtails on Friday night. Unfortunately, six of them went against one another, which meant three kept wrestling and three saw their postseason hopes ended abruptly. Of the remaining four in pigtails, three won. One and only one of the other 20 who started up in the preliminary round went two-and-out. If anyone cares to check the bracket sheets from the last 24 years – or how long the Pioneer Athletic Conference has been in existence – they’d discover that’s a very, very extraordinary effort.

Overall, the Pioneer Athletic Conference representatives went a combined 64-47 on the weekend. Again, one of its best showings since 1987.

But beyond all the numbers were the performances.

There were legitimate contenders … and a slew of pretenders, if you will.

Boyertown’s Matt Malfaro had been touted as the district’s best 119-pounder all season. He proved it, too, and throughout as an exciting final as there was Saturday night. Teammate Alex Pellicciotti had been ranked second at 135 pounds all season behind nationally-ranked and Iowa-bound Josh Dziewa of Council Rock South. One point is all that kept him from the top spot on the awards podium Saturday night.

Then there were those two other finalists – Pottsgrove’s T.J. Demetrio and Pottstown’s Will Carter.

Demetrio wrestles very much like he plays football, with the heart and desire of someone twice his size. Demetrio himself admitted that in no way did he think back in December he would be wrestling for, let alone winning, a regional title in March. Then again, that’s how a lot of opposing football players and their coaches think when they get a glimpse of Demetrio at nose tackle, or at least think until they see “Mini Me” out-tough centers, guards, tackles and fullbacks upwards of 150 pounds heavier than him. And much the same can be said about Carter, the happy-go-lucky heavyweight who may not have been appreciated for what he brought to the practice room, or even to the practice field in football, until giving the Trojan program its first AAA section and district champion since 1989. But the classy big fella, who wasn’t even a blip on any of the district or state rankings radar until winning those titles, proved neither was a fluke despite running out of time and coming up a point short in his regional final.

Want more?

There were so many overachievers – some recognized on the medals stand, others unfortunately not.

Like Boyertown’s Adam Kolb, splitting four bouts with one knee double the size of the other; Zach Heffner placing third, the only spot he could realistically hope to get with two of the best 189-pounders in the entire country in his bracket; and Jon Neiman and Brock Hallman, who didn’t quit like many others and showed up for as well as wrestled as if everything was on the line in their respective fifth-place bouts. Or Methacton’s Rob D’Annunzio, who came out of the pigtails and won six of seven bouts to take third; Dan Cox, much like Carter in being an unnoticed and unappreciated big fella in the football and wrestling lineups, taking fourth; and Brandan Clark winning four of five bouts to take third.

How about Owen J. Roberts’ Scott Syrek, who could use a ticket for surgery and rehab at Hershey Medical Center more than a ticket to the nearby Giant Center, placing fourth? And don’t forget Spring-Ford’s Kyle Duffy and Matt Krueger, who simply stepped it up a notch or two when the regular season ended and the postseason began and finished third and fourth, respectively, over the weekend.

But if there was one immeasurable heart-and-soul show from last weekend, it came from Rogers.

First, a little history.

Pius’ wrestling program dates back to 1967, when a handful or so Lions practiced on the stage at one end of Father Doyne Hall – under the hot lights on tattered mats donated to them by nearby Hill School. Early on, they had more than their share of coaches, with the first being Pottstown’s Mike Brauner, then football legends Jim Mich and the late Ron Reed, as well as former Pottstown standout Dan Staverosky among others following. The program didn’t begin to take shape, or become a consistent winter sport, until the early 1980s.

Through all those changes, through all those years, Pius never had a regional champion. None until last weekend thanks to Rogers, who put an exclamation on it with a pin-pin-pin. Then again, if anyone chose to pin down who may have been as responsible as anyone for leading the Lion-hearted turnaround in football last fall, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if most pointed a finger at Rogers.

Most won’t be surprised if Rogers puts a notch in yet another empty column on Pius wrestling’s ledger before it all ends this weekend in Hershey. That notch would be a win, something six Pius wrestlers – actually five because Zach McCann was a two-time state qualifier – were never quite able to do in the PIAA championships.


Eight of the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s dozen AAA state qualifiers – Jeremy Minich and Zach Heffner of Boyertown; D’Annunzio and Clark from Methacton; Syrek from OJR; Demetrio from Pottsgrove; and Duffy and Krueger from Spring-Ford – are underclassmen.

Of the league’s remaining 22 AAA regional qualifiers, 14 are underclassmen, too. They were Boyertown’s Peter Jones, Jon Neiman and Tyler Mauger; OJR’s Jordan Moser; Perkiomen Valley’s Gavin Milligan and Lou Fioravanti; Phoenixville’s Ken Cenci; Pottsgrove’s Zach Robinson; Spring-Ford’s Chase Brown and Tom Boring; and Upper Perkiomen’s foursome of Dylan Steffenino and Wolfgang McStravick – both freshmen who were fifth and sixth, respectively, last week – Dan Rodenberger and Dalton Fleming.

St. Pius’ Jared Robbins, Conor Myers and John Cherneskie – who accompanied Rogers to the AA Regional – will also be back, only this time as part of the new Pope John Paul II High School program.


Pottstown graduate Alray Johnson was part of the new class inducted into the District 1 Wrestling Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame last Saturday night … and it was long overdue. Johnson was an outstanding football player and wrestler for the Trojans – helping Pottstown to back-to-back Ches-Mont League titles in 1967 and 1968. He was also a standout wrestler at the then West Chester State Teachers College and Olympic Trials qualifier. He became the head coach at Downingtown High School and not only re-energized the program, but directed the Whippets to seven straight Ches-Mont championships (1981-87) and two AAA Southeast Regional team titles before retiring. Johnson, now 59, is back on the mats as an assistant under Joe Miller at West Chester, where they have helped the Golden Rams become – in two short seasons – one of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association’s top-ranked teams in the nation.


Pellicciotti’s two wins last weekend pushed his career total to 166. He is fifth, and will graduate fifth, on The Mercury’s all-time chart because No. 4 on the list – Upper Perkiomen’s Brent Fiorito (176) – is out of reach. … Malfaro has moved all the way up to No. 10, his three regional victories breaking a tie with former teammate Jesse DeWan (143) and pushing him ahead of Dan Covatta (145), who was a state champion and three-time state medalist for Methacton. … Minich (103) and Syrek (102) have already reached the milestone. … Clark needs one win at states on Thursday for his 100th career victory and, depending on next year’s schedule, could challenge Covatta’s school record. … Robinson (98), Milligan (85), Demetrio (76), Heffner (75), Cenci (69), D’Annunzio (68), Krueger (66) and Rodenberger (66) are in position to join the list next season.


State berths up for grabs in deep field

This column was originally published in the March 5, 2010 edition of The Mercury.

NEWTOWN — It’s hard not to notice all those big brutes at 215, like Pennsbury’s Kevin Bree, Phoenixville’s Ken Cenci, Methacton’s Brandan Clark, Conestoga’s Greg Gruschow, Oxford’s Nick Ruggear, Souderton’s Joe Stolfi, and Owen J. Roberts’ Scott Syrek (listed alphabetically to not only be politically correct but to be out of harm’s way).

It’s hard not to notice all those mighty mites at 112, like Pennsbury’s Josh DiSanto, Tennent’s Kevin Flack, Haverford’s Joe Jones, Boyertown’s Adam Kolb, C.B. South’s Mike Mathis, Upper Perkiomen’s Wolfgang McStravick, and LaSalle’s Bryan Pflanz (listed alphabetically to not only be politically correct but to be out of harm’s way).

Actually it’s hard not to notice just how loaded up each and every one of the other 12 brackets are for tonight’s opening round of the AAA Southeast Regional here at Council Rock North High School.

Many of the 182 qualifiers have seen enough of each other in the past — during the off-season and regular season, as well as in the postseason — to know how one another’s minds and moves. In many instances, some of which may unfold this weekend, the only difference between them is who’s hot and who’s not.

There’s been no better example of that than the energized rivalry between Boyertown’s Matt Malfaro and Unionville’s Joe Bonaduce.

They met five times officially, and Malfaro owns what could easily be tagged as a misleading 4-1 advantage. Malfaro won their first meeting three years ago — 7-2 in the Section Four final — when both were 103-pound freshmen. Malfaro grew a wee bit and Bonaduce grew a whole lot the following year, so they never met. Then last year, Malfaro was in a whole heap of trouble before turning Bonaduce, who was hurt in the flurry and had to default their Section Four final at 119 pounds. The following week, Malfaro confirmed his win was no fluke, although it was by a narrow 10-9 margin in the District 1-South final.

This year? Well, a whole lot of people were itching to see the two go at it again. They did, two weeks ago in the Section Four final.

This time Bonaduce ended his frustration with a no-doubt-about-it, 10-5 decision — costing Malfaro a third section title and, perhaps, some confidence. Or so some would’ve thought, at least up until Malfaro responded with an equally no-doubt-about-it, 9-1 major in last Saturday night’s District 1-South final.

The big question this week has been whether Malfaro (35-5) and Bonaduce (28-6) will get it on for a sixth time in their respective careers … in the regional final, that is.

Of course, neither has an easy route to the final.

Especially Bonaduce. He opens with Upper Moreland’s Jake Ellis (28-8), absolutely no slouch. If he passes that test, then there’s Bonner’s Nick Bongard, who happens to be unbeaten with 20 pins among his 32 straight wins. And should he endure that challenge, Bonaduce would likely see Hatboro-Horsham’s Matt Harkins (33-4), the District 1-North champion, in the semifinals.

Malfaro, meanwhile, will wait to see who survives the pigtail and ensuing encounter with Council Rock North’s Shane Longstreth (30-11). In all likelihood, Malfaro should get Longstreth, and he’ll have an idea how to wrestle him because Boyertown teammate Jeremy Minich is a perfect 5-0 against the Council Rock North junior. That assures him nothing, of course, but a victory would likely earn him a semifinal showdown with C.B. West’s Bubba McGinley (33-3), who like Bonaduce, has something Malfaro doesn’t – a state medal.

* * *

Malfaro is tied with former teammate Jesse DeWan for second on Boyertown’s career win chart with 143 apiece. Alex Pellicciotti is the Bears’ all-time leader with 164, a total he hopes to add to this weekend. … Another interesting statistic in the Malfaro-Bonaduce rivalry reveals they have had 15 common opponents during their careers. Malfaro is 20-3 against them, while Bonaduce is 14-3.


Qualifiers from the Pioneer Athletic Conference will go head-to-head in three of tonight’s pigtail round matches – Methacton’s Rob D’Annunzio and Spring-Ford’s Chase Brown at 103; Pottsgrove’s Denny Gibbons and Boyertown’s Peter Jones at 130; and Upper Perkiomen’s Dalton Fleming and Owen J. Roberts’ Jordan Moser at 152. None have previously met in their careers. Winners advance against their respective bracket’s top seed, while the losers’ seasons end.

There’s also one first-round match-up between PAC-10 qualifiers Tyler Mauger of Boyertown and Brandan Clark of Methacton. The two 215-pounders have never met before, either.


The Pioneer Athletic Conference will have a total of 30 on the mats tonight. Boyertown accounts for exactly one-third of that total, with Pellicciotti (135), Jon Neiman (140), Adam Benfield (145), Brock Hallman (171) and Zach Heffner (189) joining Kolb, Malfaro, Minich, Jones and Mauger.

Upper Perkiomen and Spring-Ford have four each, with the Indians represented by freshmen Dylan Steffenino (103) and Wolfgang McStravick (112), Dan Rodenberger (125) and Fleming, and the Rams represented by Brown, Tom Boring (130), Kyle Duffy (145) and Matt Krueger (160). Methacton and Pottsgrove are next with three each, with D’Annunzio, Dan Cox (189) and Clark accounting for the Warriors’ threesome and Gibbons, Zach Robinson (140) and T.J. Demetrio (145) making up the Falcons’ threesome.

The remainder of the PAC-10 entourage includes Moser and Syrek from Owen J. Roberts; Gavin Milligan (135) and Lou Fioravanti (285) from Perkiomen Valley; Cenci from Phoenixville; and Will Carter (285) from Pottstown.


Yes, there are still two more Rappos – junior Matt and sophomore Billy – rolling around on the Council Rock South mats. Combined with older brothers Mark (sophomore at University of Pennsylvania), Mike (junior at North Carolina) and Rick (graduate of Penn), the Rappos have combined for 567 wins (including 206 pins) and four state titles. Matt will be going for his 100th career win tonight against either Rodenberger or Conestoga’s Ben 125 pounds.

The Rappos’ four state titles matches the District 1 “family record“ set by North Penn brothers Jim and Chris Kwortnik back in the late 1980s.


Jared Robbins, Conor Myers, John Cherneski and Josh Rogers will represent St. Pius X in tonight’s opening round of the AA Southeast Regional at Wilson (West Lawn) High School. It will be the final appearance for Pius, which joins up with Kennedy-Kenrick next year at the new Pope John Paul High School.

Robbins (10-9) opens against Hamburg’s Jackson Stabile (39-3) at 145; Myers (25-3) gets either Northern Lehigh’s Craemer Hedash (26-6) or Boiling Springs’ John Riddle (29-15) at 152; Cherneskie (13-17) opens against Eastern York’s Robert Aaron Mackley (26-5) at 171; and Rogers (24-5) takes on either Panther Valley’s John Schaeffer (24-12) or Schuylkill Valley’s Mitch Moll (37-14) at 215.

Pius has never had a regional champion and, since starting its program in the early 1980s, has had just six regional medalists, or state qualifiers – Sean Prawecky (1985), Chris Elphick (1999), Mike Trahey (2000), Zach McCann (2002 and 2004), and Greg Care (2005).


Seven men will be inducted into the District 1 Wrestling Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame prior to Saturday night’s AAA finals.

They are Lou Delmuto, a Pottsgrove graduate and former assistant coach to current Pottsgrove head coach Jeff Madden when the two teamed up for 17 years at Wissahickon; Tony DeMeno, an outstanding wrestler at Norristown who served 10 years as the junior high school head coach and another 17 as a high school assistant at Methacton; Rich Hahn, who coached at Hatboro-Horsham; Alray Johnson, a Pottstown graduate and longtime head coach at Downingtown; Jermaine Jones, a two-time state champion at Henderson; Joe Krammer, an assistant for 31 years under Chuck Grassano at Sun Valley; and John Lute, former longtime coach at Upper Merion.

No one will likely enjoy the festivities more than Downingtown graduate and 1997 inductee Glenn Koser, either.

Johnson coached Koser when was a state runner-up in 1980 and state champion in 1981. And Koser, shortly after taking over the Henderson program, coached Jones to his back-to-back state titles in 2000 and 2001.

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Exemplary quartet continue Pius’ farewell tour

This column originally ran in the March 3, 2010 edition of The Mercury.

LOWER POTTSGROVE -- The last-this and last-that stories at St. Pius X may be getting a little old to folks not associated with any of the Lions’ athletic programs. But for the senior student-athletes and their coaches, as well as for so many of the school’s loyal alumni, it’s been difficult counting down the final weeks of the various teams’ seasons.

It was last fall.

It certainly is right now.

And, without a doubt, it will be even more difficult this spring, when the final log in Pius’ long and storied sports history is entered into the books and the doors close for good.

Tuesday night, Randy Reber and his boys’ basketball team took their first shot at yet another district title, which Joe Masleh and his girls’ basketball team sure hope to do tonight … keep that ball bouncing, play for another day, add a few more plaques to the trophy case, enrich the tradition. And fortunately for Reber, Masleh and their respective teams, the “Pius Pack” – that earsplitting posse of Lions fans – was and will be behind them as always.

Friday night, Mark Houseal and his four wrestlers – Jared Robbins, Conor Myers, John Cherneskie and Josh Rogers – unfortunately won’t hear much of anything other than an occasional howl or encouraging word from mom and dad when they’re on the mats during the AA Southeastern Regional up at Wilson in West Lawn.

But it’s OK. The foursome, like most before them, have wrestled in, accepted and endured the relative obscurity.

It’s pretty much been that way since Vince Leskusky Sr. rolled out the first mats for a band of inexperienced but interested wrestlers 27 years ago. Others, like Bill Furlong, Anthony Ciarello, Harry Bloom and John Martucci gave the program their all, as Houseal has the last two seasons. But without a youth program, a legitimate and consistent feeder program, wins have been the exception rather than the rule.

There have been no Ches-Mont League or Pioneer Athletic Conference titles to speak of, but that District 1-AA Team Duals championship banner hanging in Father Doyne Hall is hard not to notice. The list of individual postseason honors is noticeably short, with only 23 district champions – seven of which are owned by three Pius graduates.

But it’s OK.

At Pius they continue to wrestle … and wrestle with pride.

Like Robbins, Myers, Cherneskie and Rogers – arguably the most extraordinary group of postseason hopefuls Pius has ever sent onto the mats.

Robbins is in just his second year of wrestling. He’s missed a good part of both regular seasons with a knee injury, which he aggravated again during last week’s district semifinals. He came all the way back to take third, thanks in part to a five-point move that erased a three-point deficit with less than 12 seconds remaining in one of those consolation bouts.

Cherneskie never wrestled before … ever. Houseal calls him a “sponge” because he absorbs everything he’s taught. That was evident last weekend when he upset the No. 1 seed in his 171-pound bracket and bounced back from a narrow two-point loss in the semifinals to take third.

Myers has made as big a turnaround as anyone – perhaps in all of District 1, too. He broke a team rule last year, which Houseal noted he took full responsibility for, and didn’t participate in the postseason. But he came back this season focused, and considerably quicker and stronger. He’s lost just once since last December and is 25-3 and a district champion now, hard to believe when considering he was just 3-19 as a freshman and 16-16 a year ago.

Rogers may epitomize Pius wrestling. The 215-pound senior has an unwavering work ethic, on and off the mat, just as he does during the fall with football and during the spring with track. The determination and the drive to get better is why Rogers has gone from 6-23 and 13-16 during his freshman and sophomore seasons to back-to-back 25-bout win seasons, the latter of which includes last weekend’s district title. He’s 25-5 right now, and all five of those losses were to either district- or state-ranked opponents.

So Robbins, Cherneskie, Myers and Rogers don’t really need to hear how the wrestling deck is stacked against them this week. They’ve heard it all year.

They may or may not have heard that Pius has never had a regional champion. They may or may not have heard that Pius has had only six state qualifiers. They may or may not have heard that none of those six ever won a single bout out in Hershey.

But they sure would like to change all of that … extend the season at least one more week.

“This year has been special already, and I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” Houseal said. “I’m only 25 (years old), and having two district champions and two other medalists up on that podium last week was a special feeling. I felt like a proud father.

“We celebrated. But then we went back to work Monday. We’d like to keep this going.”

And make the last year of wrestling at St. Pius X a little more special.


Robbins will open against Hamburg’s Jackson Stabile (38-3) at 145. Myers gets a bye, then either Northern Lehigh’s Craemer Hedash (26-6) or Boiling Springs’ John Riddle (29-15) at 152; Cherneskie debuts against Eastern York’s Robert Aaron Mackley (26-5) at 171; and Rogers, who also gets a bye, takes on either Panther Valley’s John Schaeffer (24-12) or Schuylkill Valley’s Mitch Moll (37-14).


Schuylkill Valley is the favorite to defend its AA regional title. The Panthers’ punch is led by Nate Giorgio (40-4) at 112; Mike Giorgio (38-10) at 125; unbeaten defending state champion Colin Shober (46-0) at 140; Noah Horst (37-10) at 145; and Dylan Scheidt (38-3) at 189.


District 1’s North and South tournaments wrapped up Monday with the conclusion of the consolation bouts that couldn’t be held last Saturday evening due to certain wrestlers already reaching the maximum of five bouts in one day. Officially, Council Rock South (140.5) and North (110.5) finished one-two, with Upper Perkiomen closing a strong sixth (67) up North. Boyertown, which will advance all 10 of its district qualifiers into this week’s regional, nearly doubled its nearest rival in the South. The Bears piled up 164.5 points, while runner-up Haverford – in its strongest showing in recent memory – was a distant second with 89 points. Spring-Ford finished fifth (68).


Friday, March 5, 2010

Carter’s improbable rise gives Pottstown a district champ

Will Carter didn’t quite understand the cold-shoulder treatment he was getting prior to Saturday night’s championship round of the District 1-Class AAA North Tournament at Quakertown High School.

“Really, no one was talking to me before the final,” Carter said.

What the Pottstown senior didn’t realize was that no one wanted to jinx him … you know, like the pitcher working on a no-hitter sitting at one end of the dugout and everyone else huddled together at the other end.

What the Pottstown senior didn’t realize was that he had an opportunity to become the program’s first district champion in a long, long time. But just over a minute into his 285-pound final with Norristown’s Marcus Robbins, it looked as if his chances were slim to none.

Until he put Robbins on his back and got the pin, as well as a gold medal…

And became Pottstown’s first Class AAA district champion in 21 years, or since Chris Ruyak, Tom Medvetz and Job Price gave the Trojans a hat trick way back in 1989.

“Did I ever get an ear-full afterwards,” Carter said. “My teammates and their families were all telling me I was the first to do it in twentysome years. I didn’t know anything about that, so I was surprised.”

Carter’s actually been the one providing most of the surprises this season.

Since back-to-back losses a week apart back on Dec. 30 and Jan. 6, which dropped his record to 6-3 on the season, Carter strung together 22 straight wins. The last six, of course, have been the biggest because they’ve added up to section and district titles.

Not bad considering he was just 10-22 after his first two seasons with the Trojans. Even last year’s 17-13 mark, which included a fourth place at sections and cameo appearance – as in two bouts and two losses – at districts, didn’t exactly lend much promise to this season.

But an enhanced work ethic sure did.

“Will has worked extremely hard to become an accomplished wrestler,” said Pottstown assistant John Armato.

Even that may sound like an understatement.

“I guess the turnaround began in the off-season,” Carter explained. “I did a lot of lifting, a lot of running, and I was watching my weight. I just got stronger and faster. Plus, I really wanted to get my name up there on the board with all those other Pottstown wrestlers (who won postseason honors).

Carter earned a spot under the list of section champions when he breezed through the Section Two Tournament a couple of weeks ago. But it didn’t look like he was going to see his name anywhere else on that board after Robbins – who had won 36 of his previous 38 bouts – went in front 8-3 just over the halfway mark of the first period Saturday night.

“All I was thinking at that moment was that I had nothing to lose,” Carter recalled. “I knew I was the underdog going in, so if I was going to do it, if I was going to win, I had to do it now, and whatever happened I would have no regrets.”

Carter certainly didn’t regret the move that put Robbins on his back. Then again, he really hasn’t had any regrets since first stepping onto the mats in seventh grade. And that’s kind of ironic because he never even planned to wrestle.

“I was walking home from school one day with a friend of mine,” Carter remembered. “All of a sudden he stops and says, ‘I have to go back. I forgot I have a wrestling meeting.’ I went with him, and that’s when the coach, Jim Tsakonas – who, incidentally, was the last high school coach to have an AAA district champion – talked to me about joining the team. He kind of lured me in.”

Carter, an All-Pioneer Athletic Conference lineman for the Trojans’ football team, was suddenly a two-sport athlete.

“I liked wrestling from the start,” he said. “But I definitely liked football, too.”

The soft-spoken and good-natured Carter likes helping others as well … especially those away from the football field and wrestling mats.

He was very active with his football teammates in raising funds to buy food and gifts that were distributed to needy families during the holiday season. He also volunteers at the Manor Care, where he’ll sit in on a few bingo games with the elderly and help serve refreshments afterwards.

Carter learned a little bit about stepping up and becoming a leader last year, when he was one of four Pottstown juniors selected to participate in a three-day Leadership Camp over in Boyertown.

“The most important thing I learned there was others come first,” he said. “My teammates come first, and everyone else in my personal life comes first.

“Helping those families during the holidays was part of our football team’s community project. We wanted to create a foundation for other people after us to build on. It was our way of giving back to the community. And helping out with the elderly … that’s fun, especially when you see the older folks smile.”

Carter himself was all smiles when close friend Isaiah Washington joined the wrestling team this season.

“One of the big reasons I’ve done well this year is because of having Isaiah as a practice partner,” Carter explained. “The last couple of years I really didn’t have a practice partner except for (head coach Eric) Dusko, who is a lot smaller than me. I told Isaiah I needed a practice partner real bad, so he came out. And he’s really pushed me.”

So much so, that after those back-to-back losses the Carter-Washington workouts intensified.

“I was upset with those losses,” Carter said. “I was so mad that I mad a bet with (teammate James) McKinney that I wasn’t going to lose the rest of the regular season.”

He didn’t. And with gold medals from the first two stops in the postseason grind as proof, he’s extended the unbeaten run a couple more weeks.

“The win over (Robbins) was a confidence boost for me because he’s really good,” Carter said. “It’s great that I won sections and districts. But now I’d really like to win the regional, too.”

And get an ear-full of good news after about how he was the first to do it since Brian Campbell back in 1989.


Twenty-five area wrestlers have qualified for this week’s AAA Southeast Regional, and seven more were at it again Monday night trying to pin down the fifth and final qualifying spots in their respective weight classes. The seven, or their opponents, had already competed in the maximum number of bouts (five) permitted in one day on Saturday, so their showdowns were pushed back a couple of days.

Boyertown headlines the list with eight (with a possibility of two more), followed by Upper Perkiomen with four, and Methacton, Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford with three each, although the Rams had two attempting to take fifth on Monday night.


There was a lot of Lion pride over at St. Pius X this past weekend. District champions Conor Myers and Josh Rogers as well as teammates Jared Robbins and John Cherneski all qualified for the Class AA Southeast Regional.

The 152-pound Myers has lost just once since Dec. 30 of last year and is 25-3 on the season. He was 3-19 as a freshman, before breaking even at 16-16 last year. The 215-pound Rogers, who is 25-5 this season, has had a similar turnaround with 51 of his 70 career wins and 32 of his 44 career pins coming over the past two years.

Robbins, only a junior, didn’t even get on the mats this season until the first week of January. And Cherneskie, a sophomore, is in his first year of wrestling.


Daniel Boone junior Colin Martucci came up one win short of a berth in the state tournament after finishing fourth during last weekend’s AAA Southcentral Regional.

The 145-pound Martucci battled back from a second-round loss to eventual champion Bo Candaleria of Middletown with three straight wins – the last a 3-1 overtime decision of Cocalico’s Tyler Fittery, who defeated him in the sectional championship a week earlier. However, 4-2 setback in the consolation final to Mechanicsburg’s Rustin Barrick ended Martucci’s season at 31-6.


West-Mont Christian Academy head coach Jason Meister – who knew a little bit about wrestling (and winning) as a state medalist at Phoenixville High School and as a four-time NCWA All-American at Baptist Bible College – has a lot to look forward to next season. Two of his three medalists from the state prep tournament two weeks ago return … and return for a few years, too.

Austin Mortimer, an eighth-grader, was fifth at 103 pounds; Chris Martorana, the lone senior of the threesome, was seventh at 112; and John Hunter, a junior, was eighth at 160.

Mortimer is the first eighth-grader at WMCA to medal in a postseason tournament. Martorana finished second on the school’s career win list behind 2008 graduate Will Singer.


More than 440 wrestlers representing 142 schools participated in the National Prep Championships last weekend at Lehigh University. But it was the same old story as Blair Academy, with six individual champions and two runners-up, won its 30th consecutive team title with 274 points.

Wyoming Seminary was second (237), while Bishop Lynch (173.5) was a very distant third. The Hill School tied for 42nd place.

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Pottsgrove’s Demetrio packs big punch

This column originally was published in the Feb. 27 edition of The Mercury.

For 15 long weeks during last fall’s football season, T.J. Demetrio wrestled with opponents that literally dwarfed him. When you line up at nose guard at 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds (which may be fudging the scales a bit, too), you need a little more than just quickness and strength.

Like mental toughness...

“(Demetrio’s) as tough as anyone we have on that field,” Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker said during the Falcons’ run to the District 1-AAA title.

Shortly after stolling off the football field and onto the wrestling mat just over two months ago, Demetrio began getting smaller yet. He’s still 5-foot-7 mind you. He just lost some weight, like 20 pounds.

But he didn’t lose that mental toughness...

“No, I didn’t lose that,” the 145-pound Demetrio said Friday, shortly after his final workout for today’s District 1-AAA North Tournament at Quakertown. “It wasn’t a problem losing the weight, either. It’s a tough commitment to make, but I worked out twice a day. I kept my metabolism going, watched what I ate, and ate healthy.”

And has he ever been a healthy addition to the Falcons’ programs -- both football and wrestling, that is.

Last fall, he had six sacks, dropped opponents in their own backfield nine other times for losses, and was credited with 94 tackles overall. Despite his stature, he was a big part of Pottsgrove’s success story, which included a second straight Pioneer Athletic Conference title, that first district championship, and a school-record 14 wins. His contributions weren’t overlooked, either, as he was named to both the All PAC-10 and Mercury All-Area first teams.

The way he’s handled the transition from football to wrestling may very well end up in more postseason honors.

But for now, Demetrio would like get through this weekend and into next week’s Southeast Regional -- the final step toward a berth at states.

“(Wrestling) is a little easier size-wise,” Demetrio said. “In football I was going up against guys who were usually twice my size, so I had to have that mentality, that confidence I could beat them. In wrestling, I’m going up against guys who are my size, but I still go out there with the same mentality.”

Some may have questioned his approach at the outset, especially after dropping three of his first five bouts. But since that third loss, or since Jan. 9, Demetrio has been on a 20-2 tear. Included in that stretch are 14 pins and three forfeits, with the remaining three wins coming on a technical fall and two decisions.

“It was tough at first,” Demetrio said of getting out of the pads and into a singlet. “You have a lot of rust to shake off. In the beginning I was in a funk, a deep funk. But once you get some wins and get into a groove, things begin to click.”

Demetrio’s approach has been clicking all right, or enough to get him through last week’s Section Two Tournament. He bounced back from a semifinal setback with two wins to take third, good enough to help him make his district debut.

“I went 1-2 at sectionals last year,” he recalled. “I wasn’t really feeling right. I don’t know what it was.

“But I feel I’m really ready for this weekend. I feel I should get to the final, but I’m taking one match at a time. I’ve been working hard all week.”

Much like he had all football season ... and in the 10 weeks leading up to today’s tournament.

And all the bad weather this week didn’t bury that toughness, either.

“It hasn’t been that bad,” Demetrio said. “I went to school and got my workouts in. I was in there around six every morning. So I’m feeling good. I’m pretty confident, but I’m not over-confident. Like I said, I have to take it one match at a time.”


Demetrio will be accompanied to Quakertown this morning by teammates Denny Gibbons (130), Zach Robinson (140) and Chris Nester (215). ... Pottsgrove has gone the longest stretch without a district champion of any North school. The Falcons’ last district champions were Chris Beasley and Rick Thompson in 1991.

A total of 31 area wrestlers qualified for the North battle. Upper Perkiomen’s 10 lead the entourage, which includes eight from Perkiomen Valley, four from Methacton, three from Phoenixville, and two from Pottstown. ... The lone top-seed among the group is Methacton’s unbeaten Rob D’Annunzio, who is spotless in 30 bouts at 103 pounds. Picking up second or third seeds as a result of winning their respective sections last week were Dylan Steffenino of Upper Perkiomen (second at 103); Gibbons (third at 130); Gavin Milligan of Perkiomen Valley (second at 135); Robinson (third at 140); Vaugh Gehman of Perkiomen Valley (third at 145); Dan Cox of Methacton (third at 189); Brandan Clark of Methacton (second at 215); and Will Carter of Pottstown (second at 285).


Twenty-seven more area wrestlers — from just Boyertown (10), Owen J. Roberts (9) and Spring-Ford (8) -— are in this morning’s opening round of the District 1-AAA South Tournament at Oxford.

Boyertown’s Alex Pellicciotti (36-3) and Owen J. Roberts’ Scott Syrek (28-2) are the lone No. 1 seeds from the group. A two-time state medalist, Pellicciotti is at 135 and seeking his second straight district title. A state medalist a year ago, Syrek is at 215 and looking for his first district title. The junior upperweight is two wins away from 100 in his career.

Picking up second or third seeds as a result of winning their respective sections last week were Adam Kolb of Boyertown (third at 103); Andrew Kinney of Owen J. Roberts (third at 125); Matt Krueger of Spring-Ford (third at 160); and Zach Heffner of Boyertown (second at 189).


The majority of the St. Pius X lineup will have quite a challenge surviving today’s District 1-AA battle at Harriton.

The Lions didn’t get any top seeds, but Conor Myers (152) and Josh Rogers (215) are both No. 2 at 152 and 215, respectively, and A.J. Ebersole is third at 160.

Myers (22-3) should breeze into the final, where he’ll likely see Bristol’s Tom Kelly (24-5), who was third last year. Rogers (21-5) will have to watch Bristol’s Tyler Bliss (20-6), a runner-up a year ago, in a likely semifinal showdown. If he gets through that bout, he’ll more than likely see Harriton’s Manos Attaliadis (23-6), who was third last year. Ebersole (15-11), in all likelihood, will see Phil-Mont Christian’s Alex Avellino (20-5) in the semifinals. On top of the bracket is top-seeded and returning runner-up Tom Villareale (20-7) of New Hope-Solebury.

Octorara is heavily favored to win another team title. The Braves have five top-seeds, a pair of second-seeds, and one third-seed.


A number of bracket changes were made late Thursday and early Friday due to miscalculations in seeding the respective section champions. There were also three alterations in personnel, or wrestling entries. Up North, Methacton’s Pat Carr (24-7) will replace Section Three champion Aubrey Watkins of Wissahickon, who reportedly is injured, at 145 pounds. Down South, Radnor’s Ryan Efer is out and Sun Valley’s Dave Guardino (12-11) is in at 130; and Downingtown East’s Matt Nice is out and Spring-Ford’s Tyler Borelly (7-9) is in at 285.


While it hasn’t been hard at all to talk about Boyertown’s success this season – namely another Pioneer Athletic Conference title and the program’s first District 1-AAA Team Duals championship – there are another group of Bears who have gone well beyond what any group before them has… and they are the Upper Moreland Bears.

Last weekend at the Section One Tournament, Upper Moreland had a school-record five champions. Considering the program’s previous-high was four way, way back in 1971, that’s quite an accomplishment. Head coach Stefan Muller, a 2000 graduate of Upper Moreland in his fourth season, could see every one of those five – Jake Ellis (119), returning state-medalist Tim Santry (130), Max Agasar (145), John Bolich (160) and James Nicholson (171) – contend in their respective brackets again today during the District 1-AAA North Tournament at Quakertown.

Doubling up today would be a first, too, because Upper Moreland has never had more than one district champion in any one season. The Bears own just six overall, the last one being Pat Cissne back in 2000, who is one of only two Bears to pin down district gold medals in the last 25 years.


Perhaps the “Stat of the Week” came out of last weekend’s Section One Tournament. That would be Upper Moreland and Pennsbury with five individual champions each … two more than team champion Council Rock South, and four more than Council Rock North.

Don’t think the mats are crumbling over in the Newtown area, though. South advanced a section-high 10 wrestlers and North advanced eight of its own for today’s district showdown at Quakertown.


Quartet must survive brutal test

This column was originally posted in the Feb. 26 edition of The Mercury.

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide…

Odds are neither Methacton teammates Dan Cox or Brandan Clark, Boyertown’s Zach Heffner, nor Owen J. Roberts’ Scott Syrek ever heard Martha and the Vandellas’ lasting line from their signature song back in 1965. Heck, their own parents may not even be old enough to remember the classic.

But the four fellas sure could’ve hummed a few bars this week as they prepared for their respective District 1-AAA North and South tournaments on Saturday.

Cox and Heffner are two very good 189-pounders in stacked brackets on both the North and South dockets. Clark and Syrek are two very good 215-pounders in stacked brackets on both the North and South dockets.

In other words, or as ol’ Martha and the gals crooned, there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide … not if any of them hope to finish among the top five in their weight classes this weekend to strut into next weekend’s Southeast Regional.

“In a lot of your matches during the season, you can afford to make a mistake here and there and still manage to win,” Syrek explained. “Now, everyone is pretty tough. You can’t make even one mistake against these guys.”

Especially the guys Cox, Heffner, Clark and Syrek are going to go toe to toe with Saturday.

Cox (26-6) has, most notably, nationally ranked Jamie Callender (32-1) of Council Rock

North to deal with up North. And then there are, among others, Souderton’s Robert Smothers (27-3) and Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s Sam Morrison (29-4), who would like nothing than to avenge last week’s setback to Cox in the Section Three final.

“I’m right where I want to be, but I want to finish strong, too,” said Cox, who is 18-3 – with all three losses by a combined four points – since Jan. 1. “I’m not really intimidated (by the big names in his bracket). I just have to go out and do what I need to do. When everyone is this good it comes down to who wants it more, who is willing to go harder, who is going to wrestle all six minutes.

“I try to look at everything as a positive. I don’t look at everyone else and think I’m in a stacked weight class. I look at it as a great opportunity for me.”

Heffner (29-7) may not have to deal with as many distinguished dudes down South, but there is Springfield-Delco’s Andre Petroski (30-1), nationally ranked as well whose only loss was to Mike Evans, the brute from Blair.

“I’m just taking one match at a time,” said Heffner, who has swept 15 of his last 16 bouts. “I’m kind of looking ahead because it’s hard not to. But you really can’t do that.”

And if Heffner needed a late-season wake-up call to remind him of that he sure got one back on Jan. 27 … in a 6-5 loss to Clark during their teams’ Pioneer Athletic Conference dual.

“After that loss I came home, sat down at my computer and came up with a motivational thing (or two) for myself,” Heffner explained. “I look at it every morning and use it to motivate me, to remind me I have to finish every match; that I have to go the full six minutes every match.”

But even as good as most are at 189, the cast is even more distinguished at 215.

Up North, Clark (28-3) will have to contend with Souderton’s Joe Stolfi (28-2), Pennsbury’s undefeated Kevin Bree (25-0), and PAC-10 rival Ken Cenci (24-8) of Phoenixville, among others.

“Stolfi, Bree and everyone else are tough opponents,” said Clark, whose three losses have all come in overtime – two to Syrek and the other to state-ranked Brook Gosch of Blue Mountain. “It’s definitely more of a challenge. But I just have to take it one match at a time and wrestle my match.

“I’ve never seen Bree (wrestle). Stolfi is a quick 215-pounder. And Syrek is one of the best 215-pounders, so he’s been great preparation for this. But I’m not intimidated at all. I’m confident that as long as I don’t get ahead of myself, as long as I wrestle my match, I’m going to be very competitive and contend for a medal.”

Syrek (28-2) has every right to be confident when he steps onto the mats down South. The junior’s only losses this season have been to Callender (6-4 on opening day of the wrestling season) and state-ranked Zach Greenwald of Paulsboro, N.J., where he recently accepted a scholarship to play football at Sacred Heart University.

The Owen J. Roberts junior may have the most difficult crew to deal with, though. His bracket features Oxford’s Nick Ruggear (30-2) and Conestoga’s Greg Gruschow (30-3), both of whom are ranked in the state, and Garnet Valley’s Matt Idelson (23-2), who bolted into the Pennsylvania spotlight back in December when he defeated defending state champion Nate Gaffney of Connellsville during the finals of the Beast of the East Classic. He is also aware of once-beaten Renald Pierce (12-1) of Upper Darby and the undersized but truly energized Tyler Mauger (25-10) of Boyertown.

“It makes it all the more fun,” Syrek said of the all-star bracket. “But you can’t start off slow against anyone. There’s absolutely no room to start slow.

“(The talent) makes is better for everyone. You know you have to step it up right away, get that mentality (to win) going right from the start. No question all these guys are good wrestlers, but I’m confident. There’s no question I’m confident I can win.”

* * *

Cox is the lone senior among the foursome. Heffner, Clark and Syrek are all juniors. … Syrek needs two victories to reach the 100-win career mark. Clark is seven from the milestone. … Petroski (147) and Calender (146) are second and third behind Boyertown’s Alex Pellicciotti (161) in career wins among active wrestlers in District 1. Ruggear (110) and Gruschow (101) also topped the 100-win mark earlier this season. … Twenty-seven area wrestlers will be in the North tournament, while 26 will compete in the South showdown.


Only five unbeaten wrestlers remain in the district – Interboro’s Vince Knowles (31-0 with 24 pins) at 140; Methacton’s Rob D’Annunzio (30-0) at 103; Haverford’s Luke Bilyeu (26-0) at 130; and Bree along with Pennsbury teammate Josh DiSanto (25-0) at 112.


Daniel Boone will have five wrestlers on the mats for tonight’s opening round of the District 3-AAA championships in the hallowed Hersheypark Arena. The Blazer hopefuls are Eddie Lockowitz (24-8) at 103; Colin Martucci (27-4) at 145; Justin Williams (20-11) at 152; Ken Bock (26-11) at 189; and Sam Batchelor (26-11) at 215.

The top three finishers in each weight class not only advance to states, but get next week off to freshen up for the PIAA Championships (Mar. 11-13) back out in Hershey in the Giant Center.


Hill School head coach Jesse Young will accompany five of his wrestlers to the National Prep Championships, which get under way this afternoon at Lehigh University. Representing the Blues, who had a turnaround regular season before finishing seventh at states last week, will be Jack Sullivan (15-5) at 130; Colin Saunders (20-5) at 135; Karl Wiszumerski (14-8) at 140; Bob Dougherty (13-9) at 171; and Jay Knighton (14-7) at 285.

* * *

Saunders, a sophomore, is the lone Hill entry with a Top 12 seeding, going in at No. 7. … More than 140 schools will be represented at tournament, which began in 1935. … Hill won 11 consecutive national prep team titles (1949-1959) and owns 17 overall, its last coming in 1971. … Blair Academy is seeking its 30th straight team championship.


The District 1-AA postseason opens Saturday as well with the annual individual championships at Harriton. St. Pius X is the only local team in the 12-team field, which is headlined by Octorara.

Seedings were not available at press time Thursday. However, the Lions will be led by returning runner-up Josh Rogers at 215. Teammate A.J. Ebersole is the only returning medalist – third a year ago – for the Lions.


A weekend to be pleased with

The Pioneer Athletic Conference had a pretty darn good weekend of wrestling. Not bad at all when considering nine of the league’s teams – three each in three different sectionals, to be exact – accounted for exactly one-third of the individual titles. Heck, in one section, they went one-two-three in the final team standings. And the one big number that had to hit even the most optimistic fan like an unexpected cross-face was 56, the number of qualifiers the PAC-10 will send into this week’s district tournaments.

And if area wrestling needed an additional stamp of satisfaction, it got as much with Daniel Boone up in District 3 and The Hill School at the state prep tournament.

The PAC-10 provided more than its share of surprises.

Individually, none bigger perhaps than Owen J. Roberts sophomore Andrew Kinney’s golden effort at 125 pounds in Section Four. Team-wise, it was Upper Perkiomen – lacking its usual punch throughout the regular season because of a wave of injuries that at one point left head coach Tom Hontz with just over a dozen bodies in the practice room – putting out as close to a healthy lineup as it had all winter, finishing second behind Quakertown in Section Two, and advancing 10 to districts – which matched the best anyone did in any of the sections.

There were many inspiring efforts as well.

Like the climb up to the top rung of the postseason awards podium for the first time in their high school careers by Upper Perkiomen’s Dylan Steffenino, Pottsgrove’s Denny Gibbons and Pottstown’s Will Carter in Section Two; by Perkiomen Valley’s Gavin Milligan and Methacton’s Dan Cox in Section Three; and by Boyertown’s Adam Kolb, Kinney and Spring-Ford’s Matt Krueger in Section Four.

And while inspiration came from a slew of others, none perhaps as much as from the undersized Tyler Mauger of Boyertown and Lou Fioravanti of Perkiomen Valley – both of whom moved up, not down, in their lineups, went toe-to-toe with heavily favored opponents, and came within a move or two of a gold medal, too. And if there was a David vs. Goliath (without David’s heroics, though), it was Spring-Ford’s Jason Dombrosky, winless in just two bouts all season, working his way through the 135-pound bracket to the Section Four final, and not backing down against Boyertown’s Alex Pellicciotti before getting caught by the four-time champion and becoming his 29th victim via the pin this year.

Fifteen area wrestlers, to be exact, battled their way to the final rounds only to come up short. But they, along with everyone else who survived Week One of Mat Madness, have an opportunity to redeem themselves this weekend at the district’s North and South showdowns.

* * *

Daniel Boone may not have gotten the number of District 3-AAA entries head coach Matt Shutt was looking for, but some of his five qualifiers came a long, long way from a year ago to earn a trip to Hershey this week.

Justin Williams, a junior transfer from Conrad Weiser, finished second to Wilson’s rugged Jordan Rosa (38-3) at 152; Ken Bock, just 17-16 as a sophomore last season, is 23-9 heading into districts at 189; and junior Sam Batchelor bowed out of sections in a hurry a year ago and finished 8-23, but has more than tripled his win total (26) since his runner-up finish last Saturday.

* * *

Hill School had five medalists in the state prep tournament down at Westtown. Head coach Jesse Young didn’t get a champion, but seventh place among more than 20 teams was a step in the right direction for the Blues.

At 130, Jack Sullivan lost to highly-regarded Shawn Amato of Germantown Academy; and at 135, Colin Saunders lost an 8-4 final to Beast of the East champion Simon Kitzis from nationally ranked Wyoming Seminary. Heavyweight Jay Knighton got knocked into the consolations by another of Wyoming Seminary’s big boys – eventual champion Mike McMullan (who had two second-period technical falls and an 11-second pin) – and settled for fourth.

But what had Young beaming was a fourth at 140 by Karl Wiszumerski, who was slowed significantly by a nagging injury; and a sixth at 171 by unsung Bob Dougherty, who Young said, “Wrestled the best tournament of his career.”

Perkiomen School’s Zach Sell, literally the only member of his team with any experience on the mat, came within a win of the medal rounds at 140.


Section Two: Zach Robinson became Pottsgrove’s first three-time section champion after his run through the 140-pound bracket. Gibbons, meanwhile, atoned for a pair of 1-2 showings as a sophomore and junior with his golden performance at 130, capped by an overtime decision of defending champion Steve Ferrara of C.B. West. Robinson and Gibbons will be accompanied to districts by T.J. Demetrio (145) and Chris Nester (215)… Carter became Pottstown’s first AAA section champion in 21 years, and he’ll be joined at districts by Zane Bechtel, who sure got rid of that 0-2 nightmare of a year ago with his third-place effort in the loaded 112-pound bracket. … Upper Perkiomen may not pack the punch it did a few years back, but… of the Indians’ 10 district qualifiers only two are seniors, and of the remaining eight exactly half are freshmen.

Section Three: Think anyone should be happier than Perkiomen Valley head coach Tim Walsh? The Vikings, behind the first place from Milligan and two seconds by Vaughn Gehman and Fioravanti, will have eight representatives at districts this week. … Methacton is advancing its lowest number of district qualifiers (three) in 37 years, but all three – unbeaten Rob D’Annunzio, Dan Cox and Brandan Clark – were section champions. D’Annunzio is unbeaten through 30 bouts. The 189-pound Cox, who was at 285 for the postseason a year ago, has won 14 of his last 15 bouts. Clark won his third straight title that, combined with older brother Brad’s three, gives his family six consecutive section titles. … Phoenixville’s Matt Cermanski has bounced back from a three-bout skid late last month. The junior 140-pounder was second to Norristown’s top-seeded Brett Harner on Saturday, and teammate Ken Cenci had to settle for runner-up honors – again, and again by an identical 5-2 score – to Clark at 215.

Section Four: Boyertown may have had 10 medalists and another section team title, but there was a little disappointment in the Bears’ den. The day began with senior Ryan Schwager, a legitimate 215-pounder, missing weight at 285 by a mere tenth-of-a-pound. In the finals, Matt Malfaro was denied his third title when Unionville’s Joe Bonaduce avenged three setbacks to the Boyertown 119-pounder with a rough-and-tumble 10-5 decision in the most exciting final of the section. Jeremy Minich was also denied a third section title when Kinney avenged last year’s two postseason losses to the Boyertown junior with an impressive 7-2 decision at 125. Jon Neiman was denied a chance for gold at 140 when he became ill Saturday afternoon and had to forfeit his final. Pellicciotti is Boyertown’s first four-time section medalist in District 1. … OJR is taking nine to districts, the most Wildcats to make that trip in recent memory, and eight of them are underclassmen. … Spring-Ford, which finished third behind OJR and Boyertown in the team standings, also has a young look. Of the Rams’ seven district qualifiers, five are underclassmen.


Pioneer Athletic Conference schools Spring-Ford, Owen J. Roberts and Upper Perkiomen finished first through third, respectively, at the annual District 1 Junior High/Middle School Tournament last weekend at Quakertown. Pottsgrove (9th) and Perkiomen Valley (12th) also had strong showings in the 26-team field.

Spring-Ford (311.5 points) had three individual champions – Tyler McGuigan (147), Trevor Conover (157) and Mason Romano (252) – and four runners-up and 12 medalists overall. The Rams also had at least two wins each from its remaining four entries. Owen J. Roberts (302) had three individual champions in Derrick Gulotta (102), Colby Frank (117) and Demetri D’Orsaneo (124), with Matt Lenge (140) adding a second among the Wildcats’ 14 medalists. Upper Perkiomen’s lone champion was Eric Miller (82), but the Indians had eight medalists and got wins from all but two of its wrestlers.

Other area champions were Pottsgrove’s Patrick Finn (167) and Perkiomen Valley’s Luke DiElsi (187).


Pellicciotti’s three-bout sweep – all by pins – moved him up to into a tie for fifth place on The Mercury’s career win chart with Upper Perkiomen graduate Mark Smith. Both have 161 wins. Malfaro is currently 15th with 139. … Syrek needs three wins this weekend to reach the 100-win milestone.


Finally time for season’s third period

This column was originally published in the Feb. 20 edition of The Mercury.

Wrestling is unique in that it has three seasons. Yep, three … count ’m. Better yet, they’re all crammed into a little over three months.

First there’s the regular season, when everyone competes as a team in hopes of pinning down a league championship. Then there are the team duals, when the elite go head to head as they shoot for district and state titles.

Then there’s the postseason. The real postseason, that is.

Individual sport at its very best.

Mat Madness, if you will.

It’s a four-week grind – sections, districts, regionals and states. Four successive weekends that, slowly but surely, separates the best from the rest.

And it all gets under way this morning when 134 area wrestlers representing 10 schools step on the mats to compete in three of District 1-AAA’s six sections and one of District 3-AAA’s five sections.

Actually, the postseason drama began unfolding Thursday night, soon after the seedings for all the sections were compiled and released to the media. As expected, a few (or more) of the 14 individual weight classes are loaded. So packed, as a matter of fact, a number of high-profile wrestlers – with their collection of medals from here and there and those hundredsome career wins – could conceivably see their seasons end prematurely, if not today perhaps next weekend.

Truth is, nothing comes easy at this point in the season (oops, postseason). There are no shortcuts.

No one discovered that more this past week than Boyertown’s Brock Hallman, Tyler Mauger, Zach Heffner and Ryan Schwager, who shared their team’s upperweight responsibilities throughout the regular season.

But surprise, surprise – perhaps even more than Lou Fioravanti’s big surprise down at Perkiomen Valley – the Bears’ fearless foursome are settled in for the postseason.

Hallman, unquestionably the most underrated of the group, will be at 171; Heffner will be at 189; Mauger will shoot all the way up to 215; and Schwager will do his thing at 285.

A senior, the versatile Hallman is 20-14 after competing anywhere from 171 up to 215 this season. Eleven of those losses were against either state and/or nationally ranked opponents – among them defending state champion Marshall Peppelman of Central Dauphin; returning state-runnerup Clint Morrison of Cedar Cliff; state bronze medalist Andre Petroski of Springfield-Delco; returning state qualifiers Tristan Warner of Cumberland Valley and Wade Rivera (twice) of Parkland; a couple of out-of-state studly types like Wayne Young of Camden Catholic and Scott Patrick of McDonough; and Council Rock South’s Bobby Lavelle, Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s John Staudenmayer and Upper Moreland’s John Bolich, three state-ranked rivals from around the District 1 neighborhood.

Mauger (24-9), who has been on a roll since the calendar rolled over in January, was reportedly going to drop to 171. However, he fell to Hallman in wrestle-offs and, with the rugged Heffner (26-7) locked at 189, he had to move up to 215. Needless to say, the junior won’t be watching his diet the rest of the winter. Neither will Schwager, who missed a good part of the season because of an injury and could have squeezed into the 215-pound slot but opted to stay up at heavyweight.

But no matter how the foursome lines up, they complement a Boyertown lineup that features 112-pound Adam Kolb; 119-pound Matt Malfaro (30-4) and 125-pound Jeremy Minich (22-4), both of whom are after their third section titles; 130-pound Peter Jones, situated where he should be after being bumped up three weight classes a year ago; 135-pound Alex Pellicciotti (33-3), who should cruise to his fourth straight sectional title; and the overlooked tandem of Jon Neiman and Adam Benfield at 140 and 145, respectively.

Fioravanti, meanwhile, spent his entire sophomore year at 215 and was there again for 22 of his 28 bouts this year. But with 215 literally bursting at the seams with proven talent this winter – like returning state-medalist Scott Syrek of Owen J. Roberts and highly regarded Brandan Clark of Methacton, both of whom dealt Fioravanti losses this season – the junior opted to move up to 285.

Some other local notes of interest heading into this morning’s opening rounds:


Pottsgrove picked up two top seeds in Zach Robinson, who is trying to become the school’s first three-time section champion, and Danny Michaels, both juniors at 140 and 160, respectively. Robinson (25-3) is currently tied with Mike Meko (1973-74) and Chris Beasley (1991-92) as the only Falcons with two section gold medals. Gold has eluded Michaels, who has battled back to be a two-time regional qualifier. … Teammates Denny Gibbons (19-5) and T.J. Demetrio (19-4) are both second seeds at 130 and 145.

Pottstown’s Will Carter (22-3) is the second seed at 285. Among the other Trojan hopefuls are fourth seeds Zane Bechtel at 112, Trent Clifford at 125, and Dan Yauger at 171. Ricardo Gonzalez, one of the area’s most improved wrestlers from a year ago, is seeded fifth at 160, as is James McKinney at 140. … Pottstown, which spent more than 15 years in Class AA, hasn’t had an AAA section champion since 1989, when Chris Ruyak, Larry Wallace, Frank Stebman, Tom Medvetz, Brian Campbell and Job Price were golden in leading the Trojans to the Section Four team title.

Host Upper Perkiomen is the healthiest it’s been all year, according to head coach Tom Hontz. The Indians have a formidable foursome of their own from 103 through 125 with freshmen Dylan Steffenino (23-5), Wolfgang McStravick (25-4) and a fresh Avery Scripture (3-2), along with junior Dan Rodenberger (16-5) – the team’s lone No. 1 seed today. Martin McStravick (4-2) has also returned to the lineup at 135, and Nick Hale, who was fourth as a freshman and sophomore, is determined to add to that total after missing last year’s postseason.


Host Methacton is bottom and top heavy, its only No. 1 seeds coming from unbeaten Rob D’Annunzio (27-0) at 103 and Clark (25-3) up at 215. Two others, Pat Carr (24-7) and Eliot Reisz (22-8), drew the second seeds at 145 and 171, while Dan Cox (22-6) is third at 189. … The Warriors will go without a heavyweight.

Perkiomen Valley’s lone top seed is 135-pound Gavin Milligan (18-5), who finished second at both sections and districts a year ago and came oh so close to qualifying for states before splitting his four regional bouts. Fioravanti is a second seed, while Vaughn Gehman (22-8), another section runner-up a year ago, is third at 145. … Sophomore Justin Beitler (8-5), who was hurt in the semifinals of the season-opening Southeast Classic and didn’t return until Jan. 22, is a very dangerous fifth seed at 112.

Phoenixville’s Matt Cermanski (140) and Ken Cenci (215) are both looking to settle a score after finishing second at least year’s sectional. Cenci eventually worked his way to regionals. … The Phantoms, with no one at 160, feature five freshmen, three sophomores and five juniors in their lineup.


Boyertown had eight medalists last season, but for the second straight year finished second in the sectional team standings. Prior to that, the Bears had won an incredible eight straight section titles – the previous five in Section Four, and the three before them in District 3 (Section 3).

Owen J. Roberts, coming off its best regular season in recent memory, have six of last year’s medalists back – runners-up Jonathan Dempsey (at 112) and Andrew Kinney (125); third-place finishers Sam Funk (189) and Syrek (215); and fourth-place finishers Jacob Schell (135) and Jordan Moser (152). Syrek was second and Moser fourth as freshmen two years ago. … OJR will be without a heavyweight today.

Spring-Ford’s Matt Krueger (22-6) dropped to 160 and picked up the No. 1 seed. Krueger was third a year ago, matching the finishes of teammates Tom Boring and Kyle Duffy, who drew the second and third seeds, respectively, at 130 and 145. … The Rams will be without a 119-pounder today.


Daniel Boone will have its collective hands full at Governor Mifflin today. The Blazers, in a field highlighted by District 3-AAA Team Duals qualifiers Cocalico and Wilson, should also get a challenge from a few of the host Mustangs.

The Blazers’ hopefuls include No. 1 seed Sam Batchelor (24-10) at 215, as well as second seeds Eddie Lockowitz (23-7) at 103 and Colin Martucci (25-3) at 145, and third seed Kenny Bock (23-10) at 189. … Martucci is the son of former St. Pius X head coach John Martucci.


Fifty years ago, or back in 1960, North Penn’s Pat Frederick, Pennsbury’s Roger Sanders and Upper Darby’s Dick Hamilton became District 1’s first three-time section champions. … Frederick actually never made it to states. Sanders didn’t qualify for states, either, but was an NCAA Division II national champion at 157 pounds for then West Chester State Teachers College in 1964. Hamilton won three district and two regional titles and was the state runner-up in 1960.


District 1’s section format began in 1957 and ran through 1960 as a two-section (Suburban and Lower Bucks) alignment. Upper Darby and Lower Merion, with 11 and seven gold medalists, respectively, dominated the Suburban Section during that period. Pennsbury had 16 as the power in the Lower Bucks Section. … Upper Darby and Pennsbury, along with Lansdowne-Aldan, were the only schools to have at least one section champion in each of those first four sectionals. … From 1961-1970, the district had four sections, expanded to eight sections from 1971-1973, then adopted the current six-section format in 1974. … District 1 actually had to go to two sections in Class AA on eight occasions (1974-77, 1980-82, and 1991). Pottstown (six), Pottsgrove, Perkiomen Valley and St. Pius X accounted for all but two of the gold medals in one 1991 sectional, while Oxford (10), Avon Grove (two) and Octorara (one) grabbed all the gold to themselves in the other 1991 sectional. … The Top Five schools with the most sectional champions in District 1 are Upper Darby (145), Springfield-Delco (140), Ridley (130), and Conestoga and Pennsbury with 127 each. Neshaminy actually has had 139, but 36 of them were split between Maple Point (22) and Langhorne (14).


No. 7 not so lucky for Boyertown

This column was originally published in the Feb. 16 edition of The Mercury.

The mathematics of wrestling is pretty simple. Getting the upper hand in least seven of the individual bouts (with a few bonus-point wins among them) often adds up to a team victory.

Often, not always, that is.

The problem is very few teams anywhere have seven guarantees every time they line up for a match. That means at least half of the lineup must step up on occasion. That’s step up as in winning. That’s step up as in staying off one’s back and losing by a decision instead of a major or more, surrendering the minimum team points.

If anyone this season has learned just how important that is, to salvage a split or more, it was Boyertown.

The Bears lost seven duals – all to state-ranked opponents – this winter. On Day One, they came up three points short against Bethlehem Liberty and one point short of Council Rock North. In the finals of the Cedar Cliff Duals, they came up two points short of Parkland. At the Cumberland Valley Duals, they were beaten by both the host Eagles and Central Dauphin by misleading spreads of 11 and 15 points, respectively. And during last weekend’s state duals, they came up four points short against Parkland again before their worst loss of the entire season, a 20-point shellacking by Council Rock South – the same Council Rock South they defeated earlier in the week for the District 1 team title.

Against Central Dauphin – hands down the best team in Pennsylvania (with six straight state titles now – three

each in the duals and individual tournaments) – the Bears won only five bouts, getting pinned in three and losing three decisions by three points or loss. Against Council Rock South late Friday night, the Bears discovered their adrenaline engines had stalled after the narrow loss to Parkland.

In those five other setbacks, Boyertown won six of the individual bouts. Six, remember, not seven or more.

The difference in them was dropping two bouts by two points or less against both Liberty and Council Rock North; losing one bout in overtime and another by three points against Parkland; getting pinned four times against Cumberland Valley; and losing three one-point decisions in the rematch against Parkland.

Oh, so close.

This isn’t horseshoes or quoits, though.

Yes, the Bears more than earned their share of props in recent years, even more this year. They have already clinched their fourth straight Pioneer Athletic Conference title, and should win it outright following Wednesday night’s visit to St. Pius X. They also avenged – in a very convincing manner – that earlier loss to Council Rock North en route to the district team championship, quite an achievement considering just how good they wrestled against the district’s elite.

But head coach Pete Ventresca and his staff, as well as many of the Bears themselves, knew there could’ve been more … much, much more than their two-match cameo at the Giant Center in Hershey last Friday.

No one had to ask them, either. They voluntarily confessed to not wrestling up to their collective ability.

If it’s any consolation, every wrestling team will have an off-day or off-night, just like every other high school team will, from baseball, basketball and football to hockey, lacrosse and volleyball.

The Bears didn’t need anyone to remind them their latest off-day was ill-timed. And they didn’t need anyone to remind them about the math, either.

In time, what happened in Hershey will stay in Hershey, and this season will be remembered as one of the best – if not the best – at Boyertown since the program began back in 1965.

* * *

Central Dauphin, after surviving a 35-34 semifinal thriller against Central Mountain, swept its third straight team title with a 41-28 win over Parkland in Saturday’s AAA championship. … The surprise of the weekend in Hershey had to be Fort LeBoeuf, which avenged two earlier losses to Reynolds with an exciting 32-29 victory in the Class AA final. Reynolds, which had won three of the last four AA titles, defeated the Bison 39-23 in the regular season and 35-18 in last week’s District 10 final and was undefeated (20-0) going into Saturday’s showdown. Snowstorms delayed Fort LeBoeuf’s state-opener until Thursday afternoon. But the Bison buried Shadyside Academy, made their way to Hershey right after the match, got a good night’s sleep, then bombed Benton, shocked unbeaten Schuylkill Valley and, of course, finished off the memorable week with the victory over Reynolds. … The best individual bout, at least for area fans, was the 135-pound feature between Boyertown’s Alex Pellicciotti and Council Rock South’s Josh Dziewa. Pellicciotti nearly had a takedown and back points, but the Iowa-bound Dziewa worked out of it and won, 4-1. It’s a shame a few fans didn’t show the class both Pellicciotti and Dziewa showed before, during and after their match.


For the first time in 14 years, the top two spots in the Pioneer Athletic Conference wrestling standings will not include a combination of Boyertown, Spring-Ford or Upper Perkiomen. The last time two of the three didn’t finish one-two was in 1996, when Spring-ford went 9-0 and Great Valley went 8-1. Barring any major upsets (like Phoenixville over Owen J. Roberts on Tuesday or St. Pius X over Boyertown on Wednesday), it will be the Bears and Wildcats finishing one-two this season. This winter was the first time Owen J. Roberts had beaten both Spring-Ford and Upper Perkiomen in the same season. From 1997 through 2002, Spring-Ford and Upper Perkiomen were first or second (and vice versa), and from 2003 through last year it was the Rams, Indians or Boyertown occupying the top two spots.


Spring-Ford clinched its 24th straight winning season in the Pioneer Athletic Conference earlier this month. The Rams haven’t had a losing season since the league began in 1986-87. Neither has Boyertown, which owns the next longest streak at eight since coming into the league in 2002-03.


Boyertown (3-0), Owen J. Roberts (1-1), Spring-Ford (0-1), St. Pius X (0-1) and Upper Perkiomen (1-1) all qualified for the district’s AAA and AA duals and went a combined 5-4, improving the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s overall record in district duals competition to 71-61. Upper Perkiomen (30-11) and Boyertown (17-9) headline the PAC-10’s win chart. … The league’s overall record in state duals is now 14-17.


The Hill School won just one of four matches in last Saturday’s Mid-Atlantic Prep League championships. The Blues lost to national power Blair (69-9) and Peddie (54-22), rebounded with a win over rival Lawrenceville (43-33), then dropped its last match to Mercersburg (45-29).

Head coach Jesse Young got an outstanding performance from freshman Aaron Harris, who was 4-0 at 125. Teammates Jack Sullivan and Colin Saunders each went 3-1 at 130 and 135, respectively, while heavyweight Jay Knighton split his four bouts.

Young and the Blues were a bit short-handed. Karl Wiszumerski (140), Nate Mueller (160) and Jack Hutchinson (215) are injured and didn’t compete. Hutchinson is out for the remainder of the season, which includes this week’s state prep feature at Westtown and the following week’s National Prep Championships at Lehigh University.


Pellicciotti last week passed Upper Perkiomen graduate and former state runner-up Darren Kern in career wins, moving into seventh place on The Mercury area’s chart with 157 victories. Pellicciotti, who has won more than half his bouts (82) with pins, is two away from Upper Perkiomen’s Derek Zinck and four away from moving into the Top Five alongside Upper Perkiomen’s Mark Smith. … Boyertown teammate Matt Malfaro (137) is currently tied with Methacton graduate Jeff Albano for 15th place.

Daniel Boone senior Eddie Lockowitz, who earlier this season became just the second Blazer to reach 100 career wins, will run out of bouts – regardless of what unfolds in the postseason – in his attempt to erase Tyler Swartz’s school-record 116.

Closing in on the 100-win mark are Owen J. Roberts’ Scott Syrek (95), Boyertown’s Jeremy Minich (94), Pottsgrove’s Zach Robinson (91), and Methacton’s Brandan Clark (90) – all juniors. Syrek and Minich could get their milestone wins in two weeks at districts, while Robinson and Clark will likely have to wrestle their way deep into the regional or states to reach the 100-win mark.