By Dennis Weller
Special to The Mercury
UPPER PROVIDENCE — A wrestling team that gives away 30 points in forfeits just isn’t going to win, no matter how well it does in the bouts that are actually contested.
Such is life thus far this season for Pope John Paul II, which certainly held its own out on the mat in Saturday’s non-league double-dual against Philadelphia Catholic League opponents, but wound up with two losses — 42-27 to Roman Catholic and 60-15 to Cardinal O’Hara.
Kirk Cherneskie remained undefeated on the year for PJP (0-8) with an overtime decision and a win by forfeit. Kevin Shirley, Josh Bildstein, Jared Sahakian and Vinnie Togno won by pins for the Golden Panthers against Roman Catholic (3-5) and Conor Staples prevailed by a fall against O’Hara (3-0), which started the meet with a 57-21 decision of the Cahillites.
“We’re wrestling well, but when you give up 30 points going into a match it doesn’t matter,” said PJP head coach Selden Staples. “It will get a little better in January, but then we immediately go into the PAC-10.”
The Golden Panthers fell into a 19-0 hole against Roman Catholic after five bouts that included a loss by a pin, two forfeits, a double forfeit, and two dropped decisions.
Then Cherneskie pulled out a win at 195 pounds in a bout that headed to overtime tied at 1-1 and remained the same through the one minute extra session and the first of two 30-second periods. But Cherneskie escaped in the second one, took his man down, and nearly got a pin at the buzzer for a 6-1 decision.
Oddly enough, all of Cherneskie’s wins this year have gone at least the full six minutes, which is apparently no problem after putting in a lot of work on conditioning.
“My coach has really gotten me faster,” said the PJP junior. “I dropped a little weight. Coach has me working hard. He’s conditioning us really well. It helps to wrestle six minutes. I haven’t had a pin this year.”
Shirley and Bildstein followed with their pins to pull PJP to within 19-15, but four straight forfeits in the light weights came after that before Sahakian and Togno finished up with their wins by fall.
Pope John Paul gave up a forfeit at 152 pounds to start things against the Lions, but a 3-1 win by Aaron Cusatis on a takedown in the first overtime period got PJP on the board and a second-period pin by Staples and the forfeit to Cherneskie at 182 pounds gave the Panthers a 15-6 advantage before the bunch of inevitable empty spots came around again.
“It’s a little tough,” Selden Staples said concerning the lack of wrestlers. “That’s the challenge. It’s a challenge for O’Hara. It’s a challenge for all of us. You ask a kid who’s never wrestled before to come out and wrestle.”
So for now, the Panthers have to forget about the team score and worry about how they do individually while preparing for the postseason tournament grind.
“That’s where conditioning is helping us,” said Cherneskie. “It’s tough to win when we’re forfeiting so many weight classes.”
“Generally speaking, we’re wrestling pretty well,” Selden Staples added. “It’s just a lack of numbers. I tell the kids to ask themselves, ‘How do I measure myself this year? If I wrestled eight or nine matches, how many did I win?’ ”.
Cherneskie was the only Panther with two wins and is now 8-0 on the year. … Staples and Cusatis, who both split on the day, are each 6-2. … Staples tried to rally from a 7-0 deficit after a period in the 182-pound bout against Roman Catholic, but couldn’t quite turn Atticus Robinson in the third period of a 9-6 loss. … There were 12 pins, a forfeit, and only one decision between O’Hara and Roman. … PJP went a combined 7-9 in the bouts that it did not forfeit and now has a 35-34 record in such matches this season.