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

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.



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