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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pottstown grad Ecker caps golden career at Ithaca

Originally published in the March 17 edition of The Mercury.

ITHACA, N.Y. – Seth Ecker wasn’t exactly the 90-pound weakling getting sand kicked in his face at the beach a few years back. Looks, as most know, can be deceiving.

But when the then Pottstown High School freshman got knocked down and out of the 2005 Class AA Southeast Regional, there were some questions about his weight, about his strength ... about his future in wrestling.

“It always seemed that I was smaller than everyone else,” Ecker recalled earlier this week. “I lifted all the time back then, but I never got the muscle, never gained a lot of weight or packed on that muscle. I knew I had to rely on technique.”

He didn’t just rely on technique, he improved, refined and nearly perfected every imaginable move, both offensively and defensively.

Seven years and fortysome pounds later, Ecker not only became a three-time state medalist at Pottstown, but a three-time All-American – with two NCAA Division III national titles – at Ithaca College.

“I guess I just matured later,” Ecker said.

That, of course, is quite an understatement.

Ecker always wanted to wrestle, but he wasn’t entirely convinced he wanted to go to college to do it. He was recruited by a number of schools before finishing his career at Pottstown, then signed a national letter of intent with The Citadel, a Division I military school in South Carolina.

But it wasn’t long at all after arriving on the Charleston campus that he packed up his belongings and headed north, all the way up to Ithaca.

“Things just didn’t work out down there,” Ecker said. “I called (Ithaca head coach Marty Nichols), told him I wanted to come up there, and transferred. I had visited there before when I was in high school and loved it, loved the whole atmosphere. I felt Ithaca offered that great balance of academics and athletics.”

And no one has provided a better balancing act the last four years than Ecker, either.

In the classroom, he has carried a 3.8 grade-point average as a business administration major, earning him NCAA Academic All-American honors as a sophomore and junior. Now in the final months of his senior year, Ecker’s GPA is right around 3.9, which will undoubtedly lead to more academic honors later this spring.

Pretty amazing considering wrestling – as well as lifting and running – consumed most if not all of his free time.

“Actually it’s not as tough as you’d think,” said Ecker, who valedictorian of his class at Pottstown. “Wrestling keeps you focused. I think we have more productive days than most college students because we don’t have any time to mess around.

“You work out, you practice, you study … (it’s a schedule) that makes things more fluid. You learn to relax. Sure, it gets frustrating at times, especially when you’re off at nationals around the time of mid-terms. But you keep focused, and that helps your grades.”

Ecker, the son of Aram Ecker and Danielle McCoy, never lost focus after a banner freshman year at 125 pounds ended with 24 wins and a sixth-place finish at nationals. Never lost focus after coming back the following year and finding a major challenge in his own practice room, namely teammate Chad Winowich – an eventual two-time All-American himself. Winowich not only bounced the 133-pound Ecker out of the lineup on occasion, but completely out of the postseason that ended an otherwise superb 22-4 sophomore year.

“That still helped me having (Winowich) on the team,” Ecker explained. “It was a great experience. With all the success I had had up to that point, to know you may not be starting, that’s a learning experience. I matured a lot that year.

“The funny part was that our lockers were right next to each other. We became pretty good friends. It was a tremendous experience, and it definitely motivated me to come back better and stronger.”

One might say Ecker came back with a score to settle … and not just in his own practice room but for anyone who dared to step onto the mat with him.

The 133-pound Ecker dominated throughout his 32-4 junior season. He not only won an Empire Collegiate Wrestling Conference title again but was named the OW of the championships. He won 21 of his final 22 bouts, including the last 12 – the most memorable, of course, being his 6-2 decision over RIT’s Mike McInally for his first NCAA Division III gold medal.

“That was incredible,” said Ecker, who spent a good part of last summer working out at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado.

So were the feelings when he came back for his final season … as a defending national champion.

“It’s definitely different,” he admitted. “You obviously don’t want to do any worse than you did the previous year. I couldn’t do any better than what I did, but I could do worse. So that kind of lit a fire under my butt because I would be disappointed if I didn’t win (a national title) again.

“All you can do is take it match by match. I had a few losses early on, and they can set you back a little. It can get frustrating at times. But I knew it’s all about who shows up that week (for nationals).”

He sure did.
Ecker, at 141 a good part of December and January, dropped to 133 and avenged those four regular-season setbacks with a flurry of pins to win his third ECWC title. He spent just over six minutes on the mat thanks to the three first-period falls that earned him yet another trip to nationals.

He opened with a 4-0 decision over returning All-American Tom Mirocha of Wartburg, then put together a similar workmanlike 5-2 decision over eighth-seeded Tim Wunnicke of Wisconsin-Platteville. He left little doubt about his desire to get back into the championship, pinning Joe Mileskie of Wisconsin-Stevens Point – who earlier had upset the fourth and fifth seeds – at the 4:25 mark of their semifinal.

And there was no doubt about his desire to finish on a high note after his 8-0 major of seventh-seeded Jordan Westfall of Coe in the final.

Ecker became the first Ithaca wrestler to win more than one NCAA title. The shutout capped his senior year at 30-4 and his career at 108-20.

“Obviously it is everyone’s goal to win a national title,” Ecker said. “To win two, to be a three-time All-American … I didn’t think about all that. I do know I always wanted to be an All-American.

“It’s funny, too, because at first I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go to college. I always wanted to wrestle, though. I’m happy with the way things turned out. The most important thing was that I’ve always have had fun (wrestling). To me, that was the essence of wrestling.”


PAC-10 wrestlers wanted more in Hershey

Originally published in the March 13 edition of The Mercury.

If there was one specific feeling shared by each and every one of the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s 11 wrestlers following the state championships last weekend, it was disappointment.

Forget the critics, especially the nameless website whackos who critique and criticize as well as discredit and disgrace high school athletes nowadays. This particular group of 11 manned up and didn’t mask its dissatisfaction, or its frustration.

Unlike so many from the past, too often content just getting to the big stage in Hershey, this gang – every one of them – wanted to win. And not just win a match or two to extend their stay, but win a medal, perhaps a state championship. No question a stretch for some, but nonetheless an admirable approach, or the right approach.

And you didn’t need an expert – not even a psychologist or psychiatrist – to unravel the anxiety or even diagnose the frustration when they came up short, when they lost what they were so determined to win.

Wrestling in the Giant Center, just as it was all those years in the nearby Hersheypark Arena, isn’t easy. The PIAA state tournament, without question, is one of the most competitive (if not the most competitive) in the entire country every single year. It draws as big a crowd as any other in the entire country every single year. It’s as big a showcase for college scholarships as any other every single year. And there may not be a medal more coveted, at least in Pennsylvania, than the eight awarded in each weight class every single year.

That’s pressure few experience, or the type of pressure even fewer who ever stepped on a mat in Hershey can understand.

Unfortunately, it has overwhelmed the very best … just ask all the defending champions who didn’t repeat and all the medalists who didn’t add to their collection, or even all the qualifiers who never made it back a second time.

Getting to Hershey and leaving early, or before Saturday’s final spectacle, is painful. Just ask Boyertown’s Jon Neiman, Owen J. Roberts’ Andrew Kinney, Pottsgrove’s Danny Michaels, Pottstown’s Trent Clifford, Spring-Ford’s Jason Dombrosky, and Upper Perkiomen’s Dalton Fleming – all seniors who were there Thursday and gone the following day. Their careers ended with a loss. No opportunity to make amends. There is no next year. That’s very hard to digest.

Owen J. Roberts’ Adam Moser and Gordon Bolig and Upper Perkiomen’s Dylan Steffenino and Wolfgang McStravick – all juniors – didn’t but into the excuse that they’re underclassmen. Their time, like all the others, was now. There are no wait-until-next-year guarantees. That’s very hard to accept.

And Owen J. Roberts’ Derek Gulotta, despite finishing eighth, despite being just the fourth PAC-10 freshman to medal at states – still wasn’t satisfied knowing seven others were better than him.

So, the bottom line wasn’t the group’s one medal and a combined 9-23 won-loss record, the kind of numbers we too often get caught up in and use to define success and failure.

The bottom line was all 11 went in Thursday determined to win, not to just be there. That’s how each and every one of them wrestled. For their coaches and their fans, that’s acceptable. And in time, they themselves will be able to accept that, too.

* * *
For the record, District 1 wrestlers went a combined 67-102 with 18 medals at the state tournament. The 18 medalists went 7-11 during Saturday’s first, third, fifth and seventh place finals. … Ten of the district’s 11 regional champions all medaled; only two regional runners-up medaled; five who finished third at regionals returned home with medals; and one who was fourth at regionals earned a medal.

* * *
Six stories of note from the 2011-2012 season:

Owen J. Roberts dominates: The Wildcats won their second straight title and became the first team to hold every one of their nine PAC-10 opponents to nine points or less (the average score of their matches was 65-4). They also became just the third PAC-10 team to win the District 1-Class AAA Duals title, then swept both the Section Four and District 1-AAA South team titles.

Boyertown’s improvement: From the beginning to the end of the dual-meet season, that is. The Bears were 2-8 in mid-January, then won 9 of their last 10 duals before taking third and fourth, respectively, in the section and district postseason tournaments.

Injuries: Four in particular. Perkiomen Valley sophomore Luke DiElsi was 11-1 (lone loss to an eventual state qualifier), but except for a forfeit in February never actually wrestled after Jan. 25 because of nagging injuries. … Pottsgrove freshman Patrick Finn won a section title at 195 pounds only to see his season end following an injury during practice for districts. … Owen J. Roberts junior Kyle Shronk won the Section Four title and was on such a roll most figured him to be a potential state medalist. But a severe shoulder injury during his second bout at districts ended his season. … Owen J. Roberts sophomore Colby Frank, one of the state’s best 120-pounders, suffered a concussion in his regional opener and couldn’t continue.

Turnaround: Many were made, but perhaps none as big as Pottsgrove’s Danny Michaels. A year after going 27-11, the Falcon senior finished up at 37-7 – four of those losses to state qualifiers; two more to Norristown’s Brett Harner, who won his third state medal last weekend; and the other a two-point setback after moving up a bracket and falling to Pottstown’s Rashaad Lighty, a district champion. … Finishing a close second was Spring-Ford’s Tyler McGuigan. The junior was 2-5 last season, but came within a win of qualifying for states this time around – coming out of the regional pigtails to win five of seven bouts, finish fifth, and close with 37 wins.

Names of fame: Boyertown’s Mike Spaid and Upper Perkiomen’s Mark Smith were inducted into the District 1 Wrestling Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. Very few brought more excitement to the mat than Spaid, who is still the only district wrestler to pin his way through the postseason to a state title, and Smith, a three-time state medalist who once owned the state record for career pins.


No luck of the draw in Hershey

Originally published in the March 7 edition of The Mercury.

Some people still like to think one’s life in the PIAA Championships depends on the luck of the draw.


Fact is, there is no such thing as luck of the draw in Pennsylvania wrestling’s showcase event. Each and every one of the 16 qualifiers from the top to the very bottom of each weight class, from 103 all the way up to 285 pounds, is good … very good.

Just ask any of the area’s 11 entries on today’s opening-round cards, nine of whom debut against regional champions – and one is a defending state champion; another is a returning runner-up; three others were fourth, fifth and sixth a year ago; and two more have each been here two times before.

Almost forgot, the remaining two haven’t lost in a combined 79 matches this season, and both have been locked in at No. 1 in their respective weight classes statewide most of the winter.

And ever hear of adding insult to injury? Well, it isn’t quite the same, but this is close. Because of an injury to Garnet Valley’s Fred Alderman, the fourth and final qualifier out of the Southeast Regional at 126 pounds, Upper Perkiomen’s Dylan Steffenino moved into his spot. His reward? A first-round bout against that aforementioned defending state champion – Blue Mountain’s No. 1 ranked Corey Keener, who also medaled as a sophomore and freshman, and is an eye-popping 43-1 after dominating his bracket in the Northeast Regional last weekend.

“I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” a coach was overheard saying during a practice earlier this week. “This year isn’t any different than any other. You don’t ever get an easy match out there.”

Some, though very few, may be a bit less challenging than others. But none has ever been easy.

What often doubles the degree (or degrees) of difficulty is the environment … constant action, or mayhem as some have called it, spread out on six mats in front of upwards of 9,000 fans.

It’s been said the best remedy for the butterflies – or the nerves that have taken down some of the best wrestlers to ever roll around in Pennsylvania – is to get here early on, as a freshman or sophomore, to get acclimated to all the commotion and chaos. There has never been a better (or worse) example of what those jitters can do to someone than what happened to North Penn’s Chris Kwortnik back in 1986.

The undefeated freshman was favored to win it all at 167 pounds. But he was upset in the first round. One and done. He later admitted the cavernous Hersheypark Arena and the deafening roar from the crowd got the best of him. That was the last time, though, because Kwortnik never lost a match the rest of his high school career and pinned down three state titles – which no one from District 1 has yet to match.

Not everyone, of course, gets here as a freshman. Owen J. Roberts’ Derek Gulotta, who debuts at 113 pounds this afternoon, is just the ninth wrestler in the 26-year history of the Pioneer Athletic Conference to work his way here as a freshman. Steffenino and teammate Wolfgang McStravick (132) were here as sophomores last March. Boyertown’s Jon Neiman (152) was a junior when he competed here a year ago, just as Owen J. Roberts’ Adam Moser (138) and Gordon Bolig (170) are this week.

For first-time senior qualifiers, though, there’s that sense of urgency – that last opportunity to get a win, to get a medal … to go all out for the gold.

It’s what Pottstown’s Trenton Clifford (132) is likely to feel this morning when he steps on the mats in his Class AA debut, and what Spring-Ford’s Jason Dombrosky (145), OJR’s Andrew Kinney (145), Pottsgrove’s Danny Michaels (160), and Upper Perkiomen’s Dalton Fleming (182) are likely to feel this afternoon when they step on the mats in their Class AAA debuts.

So forget about any luck of the draw.

And don’t even think about how sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good … that doesn’t apply to wrestling, especially during the second weekend of March in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

* * *
Upper Perkiomen, with the late addition of Steffenino, has had 57 state qualifiers while a member of the Pioneer Athletic Conference. Boyertown (34), Spring-Ford (32), Owen J. Roberts (23) and Pottstown (22) round out the league’s top five. … Upper Perkiomen is also first in total individual state bouts won (108) and state medalists (25) – exactly one-third of the league’s total of state medalists. The Indians have accounted for five of the PAC-10’s six state champions – the other belonging to Boyertown’s Mike Spaid, who was inducted into the District 1 Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame last weekend during the Southeast Regional at Oxford. … Nineteen former PAC-10 wrestlers have combined to win 48 of the league’s 75 state medals. Upper Perkiomen’s Chris Sheetz and Zack Kemmerer won four apiece, while Boyertown’s Alex Pellicciotti, Pottstown’s Joey Allen and Seth Ecker, Spring-Ford’s Matt Moley, and Upper Perkiomen’s Derek Zinck and Mark Smith all won three each. Eleven others are two-time medalists.


Present, future bright for OJR states-bound freshman Gulotta

Originally published in the March 6 edition of The Mercury.

Derek Gulotta is just the third Owen J. Roberts wrestler to qualify for the PIAA Tournament as a freshman. (Mercury file photo)

A few hours after earning a spot in this week’s PIAA-Class AAA Championships, Owen J. Roberts’ Derek Gulotta was already talking about next season – about what he had to do to get better, about what he needed to do in order to get a couple of steps higher on the postseason awards podium.

Pretty heady stuff for a freshman who could’ve easily rambled on about three impressive wins that led to a third-place finish at the Southeast Regional and the coveted trip to Hershey.

The 113-pound Gulotta is just the third OJR wrestler to qualify for states as a freshman. He’s in a position to become the first OJR wrestler to medal at states as a freshman. And looking ahead, he has the opportunity to become just the fourth four-time state qualifier in the history of the Pioneer Athletic Conference – joining a very short, select list that includes Upper Perkiomen graduates Derek Zinck (1998-2001), Chris Sheetz (2004-07) and Zack Kemmerer (2004-07).

For now, though, Gulotta is only peeking ahead to Thursday afternoon’s opener against Northeast Region champion Sean Bianco of Pleasant Valley and, after he’s finished with his business in the Giant Center, returning to the practice room.

“I have to get better,” Gulotta said shortly after his 4-1 decision of Pennsbury’s Jason Bing in Saturday evening’s consolation final. “I have to get a second shot. I need another shot that’s just as good as my sweep, something I can set up on.

“I definitely need better set-ups. And I need to lift more, which I’ll start doing in the summer.”

Gulotta’s first season began with a lot of promise, mostly because of the hype surrounding all the success from his youth and junior high school wrestling. Reality set in immediately, though, when he was decked by Big Spring’s Greg Warner in his Wildcat debut at the Bealer Memorial Bear Duals, and when he was forced to default in his bout with Blair Academy’s national prep champion Joey McKenna during the Beast of the East a week later.

But there was no denying the improvement, and the maturity, as the season rolled into the New Year. Of Gulotta’s five losses since flipping the calendar over to January, two have been to defending state champion Billy Rappo of Council Rock South; another to returning state medalist Zach Fuentes of Norristown; one to regional runner-up Michael Marino of Garnet Valley (who took Rappo into overtime last Saturday night); and the other to Delaware state runner-up Tyler Carney.

Gulotta battled back from an 11-3 semifinal setback to Rappo earlier Saturday with a pin that assured him to trip to states. He nonetheless finished with the 4-1 decision of Bing.

“I knew I had a chance (to go to states) in the beginning of the season,” Gulotta said. “I know I wanted to go, but I didn’t really know if I could.

“After (clinching) winning my consi semi, it was almost like a relief. So now my goal is to get out there and place. I’m not happy just getting there. I want to go and do something there.”

And eventually add to that “something” the next three years, too.

* * *

Some AAA regional ramblings of note:

* The Pioneer Athletic Conference did not have an AAA Southeast Regional champion for the first time in 19 years, or since 1993. The league has been blanked in the gold-medal count just five times – four of which came in its first seven years of existence (1987-93). The two regional finalists – OJR’s Andrew Kinney and Pottsgrove’s Danny Michaels – were the fewest since 2002.

* The nine state qualifiers ties the league’s seventh-best previous mark, half of the PAC-10 record 18 – including a record seven regional champions – who made the trip to Hershey six years ago.

* Jon Neiman extended Boyertown’s streak of 10 straight years of having at least one state qualifier, or every season since returning to District 1. Owen J. Roberts has qualified at least one wrestler eight years in a row, and Pottsgrove – thanks to Michaels – has now sent someone to Hershey three years in a row. … Upper Perkiomen has been represented at states in 14 of the last 15 seasons, Spring-Ford in 11 of the last 12.

* Phoenixville, which got an outstanding season from senior Brendan Bonner, has had the longest stretch of no state qualifiers of any PAC-10 team (11 years), while Perkiomen Valley is next (eight years). The Phantoms’ last qualifier was Bret Wade (2001), while the Vikings – who nearly had one last weekend when Nick Giangiulio finished fifth place – was Steve Van Alstine (2004).

* The 28 regional qualifiers from the PAC-10 compiled an overall won-loss record of 58-50. … Hats off to Spring-Ford’s unsung junior, Tyler McGuigan, who came out of Friday night’s pigtails and went 5-2, finishing fifth at 170.

* * *
Pottstown, overlooked somewhat because of competing in the AA bracket, will be represented at states this week (by 132-pound Trenton Clifford) for the fifth time in the last seven years. Rashaad Lighty just missed joining Clifford after finishing sixth at 182.

* * *
Wrestling lost a legend last week when Phoenixville native Bill Harvey, who guided Duke’s program for 31 years, passed away at the age of 76.

Harvey was the Blue Devils’ head coach from 1967 through 1997, retiring with a school-record 220 career wins – fourth all-time in the Atlantic Coast Conference. One of his biggest achievements, though, was his last team finishing with the highest grade-point average (3.98) in the nation.

A member of the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame, Harvey was presented an honorary lifetime membership in the National Wrestling Coaches Association (2001) and awarded the Lifetime Service Award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame (2005). Both were to recognize his years of dedication to the development of leadership and citizenship in young people through the sport of wrestling.

In his 37 years at Duke, Harvey also served as an assistant coach in wrestling and football and as the head coach of the Blue Devils’ freshmen baseball team.

Services were held for Harvey on Monday morning in Durham, N.C.


Neiman a class act

Originally published in the Feb. 27 edition of The Mercury

Boyertown’s Jon Neiman, top, exhibited takes Tommy DiSanti down during a 13-2 major decision in the 152-pound finals.

Jon Neiman was a class act Saturday night, just as he’s been throughout his high school career on the wrestling mat and out on the football field.

Moments after receiving his gold medal for winning the 152-pound weight class during the District 1-Class AAA South Tournament at Spring-Ford High School, the Boyertown senior started talking about rival Kyle Shronk of Owen J. Roberts, then about his Boyertown teammates, then – finally – about himself.

What a shame this current generation of so-called primetime me-me-me pro athletes didn’t have an opportunity to listen in.

Neiman had at last won a postseason tournament. Yes, he wrestled his way through the sections and districts as a sophomore and junior, even qualified for state’s last March. And yes, he was well over celebrating the moment he hit the 100-win career mark this year, too.

But what Neiman never had was a gold medal from any of the previous eight postseason tournaments he participated in until Saturday night.

And his first comment after stepping off the top rung of the awards podium? “That’s a real shame about Shronk.”

Shronk was on a roll, winning 16 of his last 18 bouts by pin – the only two not by pin coming against Neiman – and looked to be a serious contender to not only get to states but medal as well.

So, if there was anyone who would have a legitimate excuse not to talk about Shronk, or about anyone who happens to compete in an Owen J. Roberts singlet, for that matter, it would be Neiman.

Back on Jan. 4, during their highly anticipated Pioneer Athletic Conference match, Shronk used an early takedown for the difference in a 3-1 win over Neiman. Just over a week ago, during their equally anticipated rematch in the Section Four final, Shronk held on for a 7-6 decision over Neiman. Those two losses account for half of Neiman’s setbacks this season – the first was 4-2 to Governor Mifflin’s Mike Shermot on opening day of the season (when Neiman was making the transition from football to wrestling), and the other one was right after Christmas, 3-1 to state-ranked Rustin Barrick of Mechanicsburg.

So if that alone didn’t have Neiman seeing red, as in the red glare of OJR’s singlets and mass of followers up in the stands, knowing he lost three straight postseason meetings a year ago to the Wildcats’ Jordan Moser sure did. Moser beat him in the section final and then in both the district and regional consolation finals last season before graduating.

But it sure seemed like another Neiman-Shronk brawl was in the making this past weekend, at least until Shronk injured his shoulder during Saturday’s semifinals and had to default out of the tournament, ending his otherwise sparkling season.

“I really thought we’d go at it again and both of us would end up at states,” Neiman said. “Just a real shame.”

Then it was time to talk about his teammates. Not just district runners-up Gray and Chase Garber nor fellow district champion Jordan Wertz, but the entire Boyertown gang that was so vastly improved from those woeful warriors in the beginning of the season. They finished third in the PAC-10, then a very surprising third in the District 1-AAA South Tournament.

“From the beginning of the season until now, I’d say we improved more than any team I’ve seen,” Neiman said. “I guess it was sort of a surprise for me. I knew we’d eventually prove ourselves, but everyone worked hard to do it. That’s the great part of it.”

Anything about Neiman, though?
“I finally won first in something,” he mumbled. “It feels good to get the gold (medal).”

Talk about a lack of class?
One critic called the District 1-AAA South’s 195-pound weight class “the weakest I have ever seen in my life.” Another wrote the bracket was “abysmal.”

Makes you wonder if they would’ve said or wrote the same thing if their own son had won that gold medal Saturday night. Absolutely not.

Congratulations to Boyertown’s Jordan Wertz, who could’ve easily attempted to go at a lower weight and gotten eliminated in wrestle-offs by one of the Garber brothers ... then relaxed and enjoyed three meals a day over the past two weeks.

Congratulations are also in order for Upper Perkiomen’s Wolfgang McStravick and Pottsgrove’s Danny Michaels for reaching the 100-win mark last weekend over at Quakertown; to Pottstown’s Rob McCoy, Trenton Clifford, Darien Hain and Rashaad Lighty for capturing District 1-Class AA titles last weekend in their home gym; and to The Hill School’s Colin Farawell, who finished third at the National Prep Championships and was presented the Bob Dalling Award for Most Falls in the least amount of time (five in 7:24) – an absolutely impressive achievement.

The Pioneer Athletic Conference will be represented by 27 wrestlers in this weekend’s AAA Southeast Regional, with 19 coming out of the South and the remaining eight from the North.

Speaking of the North... the PAC-10 did not have a gold medalist in District 1-North for the second consecutive year. Last year was the first time the league was denied gold since 1989. The four gold medalists in District 1-South matched last year’s count. Owen J. Roberts’ team title, by a narrow one-point margin over Rustin, was the Wildcats’ second in a row, and the 11th overall district team championship for the PAC-10.

Since the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s inaugural season (1986-87), the league has won 122 individual district AAA titles.


Steffeninos are rare district threesome

Originally published in the Feb. 24, 2012 edition of The Mercury.

Upper Perkiomen's Dylan Steffenino, right, will be joined by his brothers, Dante and Dustin, in competing at the District 1-AAA North Tournament at Quakertown this weekend. (Photo by John Strickler/The Mercury)

A few years ago, actually twentysome, Bob Fieo may have thought about selling his heating and air conditioning business and starting up a dry wall business. He sure hung enough new walls, or patched up enough holes in the existing ones, during his sons’ wrestling careers at Spring-Ford. Seems as though the kids – George and Robert – didn’t only bring homework home, but enough energy to wage a few evening workouts of their own. Give them a room, any room, even a hallway, upstairs or downstairs, it didn’t matter ... they sure went at one another.

Kind of makes you wonder what may go on in a few other households throughout the wrestling neighborhood.

Especially up in the Red Hill area with the Steffeninos – all three of them.

In all likelihood, Dustin and twin brothers Dante and Dylan have been rolling around on the mats and everywhere in the house since soon after taking their first steps. Even if they haven’t cost mom and dad a buck or two for house repairs, they sure have forced them to dig into their pockets to fill up the gas tank for trips to all those youth tournaments (and now to all their high school matches).

“They are a great family that is very tight,” said Upper Perkiomen head coach Tom Hontz.

Mike and Rita Steffenino won’t need a full tank to steer their way up Route 663 to Quakertown for tonight’s opening round of the District 1-AAA North Tournament, but it may be a one-of-a-kind cruise for them.

Looking back through the record book, or history book, there doesn’t seem to be a year in which three brothers qualified for or wrestled in a District 1 tournament – North or South (or Central during the three-year, three-district format). There have been countless twosomes. There have even been some so-called “close others,” where three or even more wrestled their way into the spotlight – just not all together at the same time.

The most famous threesome, of course, would be North Penn’s Kwortniks – state champion Jim, Jeff and three-time state champion Chris. There was also Methacton’s Fab Four Mosers – Rick (the program’s first district champion), Billy (the program’s first regional champion), Jon (the program’s first state champion), and Eric (the youngest brother). And then there’s the Royal Ring of Rappos, all five of them – Rick, Mike, Mark, Matt and Billy (the favorite in Dustin Steffenino’s 106-pound bracket this weekend). All the Rappos have done is won a combined 13 district titles (so far), 10 Southeast Regional titles (so far), and five state titles (so far) ... not to mention a mind-boggling 699 career wins going into Billy’s opener tonight.

But again, it doesn’t appear anywhere in the record books that an area family had three brothers lined up together for a single district tournament.

Dustin Steffenino was in and out of the lineup during the regular season this winter, sharing time at 106 with Eric Miller. Dante, because he was only 90 pounds (soaking wet) as a freshman, spent ninth grade on the junior high school team and has collected 60 wins in his two seasons with the Indians. Dylan, the heavier of the twins two years ago, is in his third season and needs just four wins to reach the coveted 100-win career mark.

“Dylan and Dante definitely feed off one another,” Hontz said. “They are competitive with one another, too. I’m pretty sure Dante was bummed when Dylan made it to states last year after coming up one point shy of joining him (in Hershey). I’m certain Dylan was equally bummed that Dante didn’t make it to states with him, too. They’re very supportive when one or the other is on the mat. Both of them are really, really supportive of little brother Dustin as well.

“It is really something when the three of them can all be successful, like they were last weekend (at the Section Two Tournament), and share in each of their accomplishments. Likewise, it can be tough when one of them loses a tough match, or on that super rare occasion when all three lose. The whole family shares in any setbacks.”

There will actually three sets of brothers in this weekend’s District 1-AAA South Tournament – Boyertown’s Dylan and Jordan Wertz at 106 and 195, and Gray and Chase Garber at 170 and 182, and Spring-Ford’s Adam and Jason Dombrosky at 132 and 145. ... Perkiomen Valley’s Luke and Anthony DiElsi would’ve likely been together up North tonight, too. Anthony, a senior, will be at 182. Luke, a sophomore, had his season cut short by injuries after going 11-1.

* * *
Upper Perkiomen’s Wolfgang McStravick and Pottsgrove’s Danny Michaels are both within reach of the 100-win career mark. McStravick, the top seed at 132 pounds, is at 99. The junior has won his last 16 bouts and is 28-1 overall, his lone loss coming to three-time North Carolina prep school state champion Chris Caton of Northside Christian (who recently committed to Air Force). Michaels, seeded second at 160, needs three to become just the fifth Falcon to hit the milestone and seven to tie older brother Ryan (104). ... Others, in addition to Dylan Steffenino (96) who could get to the 100-win mark by season’s end include Pottstown’s Trent Clifford (92), Spring-Ford’s Chase Brown (92), and Upper Perkiomen’s Dalton Fleming (89). ... Up North, Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s Justin Staudenmayer, a junior, is at 97. In the South, unbeaten Dave Forte of Interboro, a senior, is also at 97. Ironically, both could meet up next week at regionals being they’re both at 145 pounds.

* * *
Owen J. Roberts has more district qualifiers (11) than anyone – North or South – and will be looking for its second straight district team title. The Wildcats, who went a perfect 10-for-10 in last Saturday’s Section Four finals, would be the eight straight South team champion from Section Four if they can repeat. Over the last 25 years, 19 of the District 1-AAA South (and Central) team champions have come out of Section Four. The remaining six are split evenly among Section Five and Section Six. ... Upper Perkiomen (three times) is the only non-Suburban One Conference team to win a District 1-AAA North team title in the past 10 years.

* * *
Pottstown and Pope John Paul II will end their two-week layoff when they join 16 other teams in the District 1-AA showdown Saturday in Strom Gymnasium at Pottstown High School.

The host Trojans have four of the seven defending champions back – Clifford (132), Jasheel Brown (145), Darien Hain (152) and Rashaad Lighty (182) – and along with District 1-AA Duals champion Lower Moreland are expected to contend for the team title. Clifford (32-2), Hain (17-5) and Lighty (29-3) are all top seeds in their brackets, while Brown (17-13) is a third seed.

Pope John Paul II, somewhat surprisingly, didn’t draw a first, second or third seed. Head coach Sheldon Staples’ group is led by Nick Foreman (17-12) at 106, John Cherneskie (17-12) at 152, his son Connor Staples (14-13) at 160, and Jared Robbins (20-9) at 170.

Lower Moreland is the defending team champion. Pottstown swept back-to-back titles in 2006-07.


Cloud of uncertainty hangs over sectionals

Published in the Feb. 17, 2012 print edition of The Mercury.

Sometimes, much like one of those Mark Smith and Chris Sheetz from-out-of-nowhere-headlocks a few years back, the names and numbers just jump off the bracket sheets at you.

Unfortunately, with six sectionals officially kicking off the 88th postseason in District 1 wrestling history – today isn’t, oddly enough, one of those sometimes.

There are, of course, a gang of individuals who like both Smith and Sheetz have already made names for themselves, none better perhaps than Council Rock South’s Billy Rappo, a returning state champion, or Norristown’s Shane Springer, who has trashed the Pennsylvania career pin record.

However, one would have to have quite a memory to recall when there was a greater a cloud of uncertainty hanging over District 1’s rank and file on opening day of the postseason.

There is considerable talent, but the names and numbers reflect just how low the count of proven talent there really is. At weigh-ins this morning, there will be only 17 state qualifiers from a year ago. Among them are a mere three state medalists (Rappo and Norristown teammates Zach Fuentes and Brett Harner, who were both fourth). If you’d like to boost those respective numbers by one, go ahead and add in Springer, who attended La Salle last year and finished fifth.

But still only 17 returning state qualifiers ... by far the lowest number in recent memory. And it’s a number that warrants an underline, if not an asterisk after it, because not one single returning qualifier (except Springer at 170) is situated in the upper portion of any section bracket. In other words, the proverbial cupboard is bare, state-tournament experience wise, from 170 on up through 285.

However (admit it, you were waiting for the however), don’t think the wrestling will be anything short of competitive – or entertaining today.

There are 27 individuals looking to defend their section titles – four in Section One, five in Section Two, four in Section Three, another five in Section Four, three in Section Five, and six in Section Six. Nearly one-third of them – Pennsbury teammates Anthony DiEmedio and Josh DiSanto, Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s Justin Staudenmayer, and Norristown’s Harner, Owen J. Roberts’ Andrew Kinney, Interboro’s Wayne Armstrong, and Rustin teammates Corey McQuiston and Steve Quinn – are looking for their third section titles.

And there will be countless others, of course, grappling for gold – some who came oh so close a year ago; some who have done an about-face since last year; and some newcomers, like a very, very noticeable group of promising freshmen and sophomores, who are looking to make a name for themselves (and looking to make one now).

So, while the numbers and names may not exactly be jumping off the bracket sheets at you this morning, well... by tonight, and in the ensuing three weeks, they just may.

Welcome to the postseason.

* * *

A glimpse into the area’s three sectionals...

In Section Two, Upper Perkiomen freshman Dustin Steffenino drew a sixth seed at 106, while his junior twin brothers Dante and Dylan Steffenino are the top seeds at 113 and 126, respectively. Dylan won a section title two years ago. The Indians have two other defending champions in Kyle Fellman, seeded fifth at 120, and Wolfgang McStravick, seeded first at 132. ... Quakertown’s Tyler Seislove, the son of former Spring-Ford standout Dan Seislove and nephew of Spring-Ford head coach Tim Seislove, is the No. 1 seed at 138. ... Pottsgrove’s Danny Michaels is on top the bracket at 160, and freshman Patrick Finn is second at 195. Sophomore teammate Nico Demetrio is third at 132, sandwiched in the bracket between McStravick and C.B. East’s Francesco Fabozzi. ... Phoenixville’s Brendan Bonner could surprise as a second seed at 145.

In Section Three, Methacton picked up three first seeds with Eric Straup (113), Brett Duvernois (120) and Tracey Green (285). ... Pioneer Athletic Conference rival Perkiomen Valley didn’t get any, but Nick Giangiulio (145) and Anthony DiElsi (182) are second seeds. The Vikings’ Luke DiElsi, who lost just once this winter, isn’t competing in the postseason due to a nagging injury.

In Section Four, look for a brawl in the 120 final between top-seed Colby Frank of Owen J. Roberts and either second-seed and defending champion Sean Hennessey of Spring-Ford or third-seed Ed Kriczky of Boyertown. Even that one may pale in comparison to an expected rematch between Boyertown’s Jon Neiman and OJR’s Kyle Shronk, the top two seeds, respectively, at 152. ... PAC-10 and District 1 Team Duals champion Owen J. Roberts owns nearly half of the top seeds with Frank, defending champions Adam Moser (138) and Andrew Kinney (145), Mike Lenge (160), Gordon Bolig (170), and Brad Trego (285). ... Spring-Ford has a top seed at 113 with defending champion Chase Brown.