By Don Seeley
NEWARK, Del. — Steve DeRafelo has been to the Beast of the Classic more than a few times, both as a spectator and as a coach.
But this past weekend’s 20th renewal of what many regard is the No. 1 or No. 2 high school wrestling tournament in the entire country, may have been the most difficult the Owen J. Roberts veteran head coach has ever seen or been part of.
“It was a meat-grinder,” DeRafelo said late Sunday night, soon after returning with one medalist and a very respectable 17th place among 102 teams in the final standings. “It just seems as though all the kids are tough, scrappy. It puts everything in perspective, actually redefines what’s tough.”
The Wildcats, all 13 of them — the very ill Kyle Shronk missing at 160 pounds — went head-to-head with some of the best talent they’ll likely see the remainder of the winter. Eight of them ran smack into well-known and well-respected opponents, including three ranked No. 1 in the nation as well as one No. 2 and one No. 3.
At 126, Colby Frank made his season debut with a 34-second pin only to get No 1. Joey Dance of Christiansburg, Va. — a Beast runner-up and state champion a year ago — in the second round. Frank took him a full six minutes, but fell short 17-11. Dance went on to capture the gold medal.
At 132, Dominic Petrucelli opened against No. 11 ranked P.J. Klee of Blair Academy. Petrucelli was tech-falled. Klee went on to take second.
At 170, unsung Tyler Rogers — overcoming a knee injury and a broken nose – opened with No. 3 ranked Zach Epperly of Christiansburg — situated behind Pennsylvania immortals Cody Wiercioch of Canon-McMillan and Chance Marsteller of Kennard-Dale. Rogers was pinned, then won four in a row before being elminated. Epperly went on to capture the gold medal.
At 182, Gordon Bolig opened against No. 1 ranked Eric Morris of Wyoming Seminary. Bolig, like Frank earlier, went the full six minutes before losing. Bolig regrouped and took seventh place. Morris breezed to the gold medal.
At 195, Evan Boaman opened against No. 8 ranked Ray O’Donnell of Saucon Valley and was pinned. O’Donnell went on to finish second.
And at 285, Brad Trego posted a pair of solid wins before running into No. 2 ranked Brooks Black of Blair Academy. Trego was pinned. Black, who was ranked No. 1 until two weeks ago, went on to win the gold medal.
“In a tournament like the Beast you expect to hit some of the top seeds along the way,” DeRafelo said. “But the nationally and state ranked kids we ran into so early ... it was absurd.
“What made it so much tougher than last year was that the Ohio teams were back in (thanks to the Beast being held a week later). You look at some of the teams from out there. They have some hammers.”
Massillon Perry and Brecksville, ranked No. 17 and No. 49, respectively, in the nation, did the majority of Ohio’s hammering. The two teams finished third and fourth in the standings behind No. 1 Blair Academy and No. 2 Wyoming Seminary.
Eleven of the 16 teams that finished in front of Owen J. Roberts were nationally ranked. And only four PIAA-member rivals — nationally ranked Canon-McMillan (No. 6), which finished fifth, and Bethlehem Catholic (No. 29), which finished 11th, along with Cumberland Valley (12th) and Northampton (14th) — closed ahead of OJR in the team standings.
“We’re pretty happy with the way we wrestled,” DeRafelo said. “This is going to help us, and it will be an important part of any success we hope to have in the postseason.
“Right now, though, our kids are beat up. It’s a physically tough tournament. You come out of that tournament knowing there is nothing more grueling than that. I mean it’s match after match after match. But it’s going to help us in the long run.”
Norristown, the only other District 1 team at the Beast last weekend, had three medalists in Zach Fuentes — who edged OJR’s Derek Gulotta in a 1-0, third-round thriller — fifth at 113; Mike Springer, seventh at 145; and Brett Harner, second at 182 after taking Morris into overtime. … Only two OJR entries went two-and-out. The Wildcats went a combined 35-26 overall in individual bouts.
With the district abandoning sectionals for league championships, the Pioneer Athletic Conference show should be a good one. The weight class that arguably would be the toughest, should it be wrestled right now, is 126 — with Frank, Boyertown’s Edie Kriczky (10-2), Spring-Ford’s Sean Hennessey (8-1), and Upper Perkiomen’s Dylan Steffenino (2-1), who is expected to return soon from an injury. Frank is 4-0 against Kriczky and Hennessey, while Hennessey has split two bouts each against Kriczky and Steffenino.