By DENNIS C. WAY
21st Century Media
There would have been a time when Norristown’s wrestling team moving to the Pioneer Athletic Conference would have brought dread to the conference’s assembled teams.
The Eagles have been, at times, one of the district heavyweights, most notably the late 1990s when the Eagles managed top 15 finishes in the state and 2011 when Norristown placed 12th in the Commonwealth.
These days, the Eagles are much like many of the grappling teams in the area – OK, but a few years away from reminding anybody of Boyertown or Pennridge.
Upper Merion hasn’t had a standout wrestling team since the late 1970s, and this year’s team, 14 men strong, isn’t about to challenge for much more than a handful of victories.
Yet the Vikings, too, find themselves in the PAC, one of the toughest wrestling conferences in the state.
How will the Eagles and Vikings survive?
Will they survive?
“Hey, we have some tough kids, and they’re willing to face the challenge,” said Upper Merion head coach Marcus Johnson. “They know they’re going to be facing tough teams, but they’re willing to do that.”
Johnson said the team’s four seniors – Tim Cheng, Zach DeSanto, Matt Koresko and Mike Pezzano – along with standout junior Anthony Yacovetti, welcome the challenge, and while no one is predicting anything but a handful of lopsided losses, the team, said Johnson, is not about to back down.
“All I can do is get these guys ready to wrestle,” Johnson said, “and that’s what I’m going to do.” As for Norristown, Harner said the Eagles are young, have already lost two regulars – Mason Hall (to transfer) and Mike Johnson (to a torn ACL) – but are not about to throw in the proverbial towel.
“There’s some talent here,” Harner said, “but on paper we’ll be fortunate to win a (PAC) match.”
With the Eagles sharing the Liberty Division with the likes of Boyertown, Owen J. Roberts, Spring-Ford, Perkiomen Valley and Methacton, it could be a rough go.
The Eagles have some quality returnees, most notably middleweight Eric Fuentes (145) and lightweight Justin Altrogge (113), both 30-match winners a season ago.
But it may be some time before the Eagles are challenging for a conference title.
Another problem has been attendance, with Harner seeing 20 wrestlers at one day’s practice and only eight on another.
“We’re not at the point where we can throw kids off the team for missing practice,” Harner said. “We’re going to need warm bodies here, and it’s always more enjoyable with 20 kids in the room than it is 10.”
Until the Eagles and Vikings are ready to challenge the heavyweights in the PAC, it’s going to be a major challenge– and maybe not a pleasant one.
“We could go through the year without winning a league match,” Harner said.
But that’s not going to deter either coach from giving it a go.
“Our kids just want to wrestle,” Johnson said. “They don’t care whether it’s Boyertown, Owen J. Roberts or Spring-Ford.”