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

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.



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