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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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