By Don Seeley
With all due respect to the older fellas rolling around on the mats this season, Pioneer Athletic Conference wrestling is undergoing a youth movement.
And we’re not talking just a few promising youngsters stepping out and up this winter, but a slew of them. And, combined with the sizeable gang from a year ago, it’s as good a group as anyone can remember.
While it’s actually unfair to look ahead, if not risky because of obvious factors like injuries, it’s hard to imagine this list of more than a dozen freshmen and even more sophomores not making a statement throughout the regular season … and, quite possibly, in the postseason.
If there’s one who hasn’t been able to escape the early spotlight it’s Boyertown freshman Jordan Wood. Because of his success through youth, junior high and AAU wrestling programs, it wasn’t unusual at all to hear so many people – especially those in Boyertown, of course — hoping he’d get up with the Bears sooner rather than later.
The 220-pound freshman hasn’t disappointed a soul since his debut at the Brian Bealer Memorial Duals, either. Five bouts, five wins. Last weekend at the anything-but-easy King of the Mountain Tournament, he strung together four pins to get into the final, then decisioned a returning state medalist. A 10-for-10 start isn’t too bad, especially for a 14-year-old freshman near the top of the lineup.
“Wow,” is what Owen J. Roberts head coach Steve DeRafelo uttered after catching a glimpse of Wood at the duals.
Wood will likely wow a few more coaches, even opposing fans, before the current season is over and done with. And to think he has three more years to, dare we say it, get even better.
Ironically, Wood is part of a foursome of freshman that has Boyertown’s future shining bright this holiday season. The 106-pound Lucas Miller was also 5-for-5 at the duals and lost just once en route to a third place at the King of the Mountain. Teammates Garrett Mauger and Gregg Harvey will also add more than their share of wins this season, as will sophomores Dylan Wertz, Ty Miller and Reuben Maldonaldo.
Owen J. Roberts’ fantastic four of a year ago — Derek Gulotta (state medalist), Dominic Petrucelli, Drew Garber and Demetri D’Orsaneo — were only at half-strength for most of the season due to depth at certain weights and injuries, but appear to be settled in their own brackets for now, and healthy.
Pottstown has a reputable foursome of freshman, too, in lightweights Logan and Mason Pennypacker, Bill Gephart and Bryant Wise. If Phoenixville’s Max Shepherd can actually grow into the 106-pound slot, he will be a challenge. Pottsgrove has a great freshman-sophomore punch up top with Chris Defrancesco and Pat Finn – with Finn’s promising postseason of a year ago cut short by a broken ankle.
And if there is a PAC-10 team with its own sizeable share of promising freshmen and sophomores right now it’s Spring-Ford. The Rams’ Jimmy Frank, Hunter Mitch and Matt Krieble are all freshmen, while Ryan Hayes, Michael Collins, Frankie Krauss, Dan Krieble, Jon Cooper and Zach Dorsey are all sophomores. Through the Southeast Classic and Abington Duals, their combined won-loss mark is rather impressive.
And remember, the entire group of freshmen and sophomores, as well as others not even mentioned, should get even better throughout the season while wrestling in the PAC-10 … arguably the most competitive league in District 1 right now.
Speaking of the PAC-10, one wrestling website has Owen J. Roberts, Spring-Ford and Boyertown ranked first, second and third, respectively, in District 1. Upper Perkiomen is at No. 5 and Methacton is listed No. 17. … It appears as though a lot of other people are thinking the league is rather competitive, too.
Anniversaries are much like birthdays … after a while, you start thinking enough already. But when Phoenixville celebrates the 50th anniversary of its wrestling program Friday evening, it just may be the right time for head coach Joe Youngblood and the Phantoms to light all those the candles and, before blowing them all out, wish for a future much like their storied past.
And then together — meaning everyone involved in Phoenixville’s youth programs up through the junior and senior high schools — get on the same page and work to regain the winning tradition and stature it once had.
That tradition began shortly after Ray Rutt started the Phantoms’ program in 1962. Rutt, fresh out of college (West Chester), had a few very good wrestlers – George Daher and Bob Lanyon among them – and a better than .500 season his third year.
The turnaround began when Lonny Moore took over in 1966 and, in 16 seasons, guided the Phantoms to a notable 160-51-5 record, a handful of Ches-Mont League titles and seven postseason championships (three section, three district and one regional). The now-retired Moore, who served on the district’s steering committee for more than 30 years, is a member of the District 1 Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Coaches State Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into Phoenixville’s Wall of Fame.
Frank Giffi took over for Moore in 1982, then Gary Barron took charge for 14 seasons. Since Barron stepped down following the 1999-2000 season, Phoenixville has had four different coaches, including Joe Youngblood the last two.
Youngblood is young, full of energy and, most important, willing to put in the time to get the Phantoms’ program back on track … or back among the district’s elite as it was fortysome years ago.
Friday’s festivities will be held prior to the Pioneer Athletic Conference match between the Phantoms and visiting Perkiomen Valley.
If anyone is looking for a pre-holiday wrestling show it will unwrap itself Friday night when Spring-Ford visits Upper Perkiomen. Both, along with Boyertown, are hoping to end Owen J. Roberts’ two-year run through the PAC-10 this winter. … There are a handful of potential individual showdowns — the Rams’ Jimmy Frank against the Indians’ Dustin Steffenino at 106; Ryan Hayes against Eric Miller at 113; Sean Hennessey against Dylan Steffenino at 126; Adam Dombrosky against Wolfgang McStravick at 138; and Frank Krauss against Kyle Fellman at 145. … The match features the two winningest active coaches in the league in Upper Perkiomen’s Tom Hontz (139) and Spring-Ford’s Tim Seislove (103). Hontz’s total is actually No. 1 overall, while Seislove needs one more to move into a tie for second with former Ram coach and current Spring-Ford principal Pat Nugent. Former Great Valley coach Joe Tornetta (101) is the only other coach to win 100 or more league matches.
McStravick’s 11 wins this season has pushed his career total to 117. He needs seven more to get inside The Mercury area’s Top 50 … Teammate Dylan Steffenino, who is recovering from an injury and didn’t wrestle in last weekend’s Reno Tournament of Champions, is at 104 career wins. … OJR seniors Gordon Bolig, Adam Moser and Kyle Shronk are within reach of the milestone this season, as is junior Colby Frank.
The Steffenino brothers — senior twins Dylan and Dante along with younger brother Dustin — have now combined for 196 wins. They’re closing in on McStravick and older brother Mike (217). But those numbers are still well back of a few other brother combinations from The Mercury area — namely Zack and Ryan Kemmerer (351), David and Robert Hoffman (326), Zach and Orion Doll (272), Brandan and Brad Clark (267), Tony and Matt Malfaro (263), and Matt and Mike Moley (254). Hill graduates Ty and David Willman (244) were just shy of the 250 mark.
Spring-Ford and Boyertown have never had a losing season in the Pioneer Athletic Conference. That covers all 26 seasons for charter member Spring-Ford, and all 10 since Boyertown joined the alignment in 2002-03. … No. 1 ranked Owen J. Roberts, off all last week, is at the Beast of the East Classic this weekend and the Buckskin Classic at Conestoga Valley next weekend. The Wildcats do not open the PAC-10 portion of their schedule until Jan. 5 at Pope John Paul II. The two-time defending champions debut having won 27 consecutive league matches — their last loss coming Jan. 6, 2010, at Boyertown, 53-14.
Don Seeley is the sports editor of The Mercury. His wrestling column appears Tuesdays through the PIAA Championships.