In a consolation dual meet against Spring-Ford, tucked in the back of the cramped Pottsgrove High gym, Downingtown West coach Brad Breese realized he was due for a shopping spree of sorts.
Breese doesn’t come off as the shopping type, but after he watched his rising star, Doug Zapf, knock off returning fourth-place state medalist, Brandon Meredith, in overtime, Breese realized he might just need a new suit for the medal round at the state tournament a month later.
“I told my wife that night I bought a suit 13 years ago and it might be time to buy a new suit,” Breese said.
The day after his revelation Breese guided the Whippets to their first trip to the Class 3A PIAA Duals, and a month later showed off his new threads as Zapf won the 106-pound state title in Hershey.
Breese, a concrete contractor, coaches with a blue-collar demeanor that demands effort and sacrifice. This winter, Zapf and the Whippets showed, like their coach, success suits them well. For that, Breese is the 2017 Daily Local News All-Area Wrestling Coach of the Year.
West surged back on the map, dethroning Downingtown East from its five-year perch atop the Ches-Mont National Division, before taking fourth at the District 1 Duals and watching Zapf win the first state title in school history.
“One of our goals we set early in the year was to get to states and we knew we were a good enough team to do it if we just won the tight matches,” Breese said. “We are able to for the most part and when we didn’t, we bounced back. It was nice to see guys do what was expected and finish where we wanted to finish. Hopefully we’ll build on that and keep rolling.”
West won the Ches-Mont Championships and District 1 Central, sending eight to regionals and three to states. Zapf was the icing on the cake of the Whippets’ banner year.
A win by Zapf in early January over Spring Grove’s returning third place PIAA medalist, Dalton Rohrbaugh got Breese thinking of what could be in Hershey, and the win over Meredith had him seeing gold.
“Before the season started I thought (Zapf) was top six, no doubt,” Breese said. “He asked me in December if I thought he could win a state title and I told him I thought top four and after that sometimes it takes a little luck. Two weeks later he beat Rohrbaugh and then Meredith, wrestling down a weight class. That match didn’t really go his way, but he found a way to win and that was the match where I thought he could win it all.”
It was Breese’s 14th year coaching at West, third as head coach. The smile he had on his face after Zapf won it all still shows up whenever he relives it.
“It was amazing, seeing a kid who puts so much more work into it and works so hard, not only physically but mentally,” Breese said. “He knows what he has to do and does the right things. I still can’t believe it sometimes that it happened. I still wake up at night smiling.”
The admiration is mutual.
“He’s amazing,” Zapf said of Breese. “Even out of school, he’s always there. I wouldn’t be here without him. A lot of people have helped, but he’s definitely the main part.”
The season wasn’t all smooth sailing. The Whippets had a rematch against Methacton in the second round of district duals after dropping a one-point loss just before Christmas, but once again the Warriors wound up on top.
Breese’s boys not only got beat, but lost in the toughness department. as well. The message was clear: man up or miss out on Hershey once again.
West rallied the following day, pulling off a win against a hot Garnet Valley team, showing some of the mettle Breese had been trying to infuse the previous two years.
“He pushed us a lot and gave us higher and higher expectations from my freshman year,” Zapf said. “He expected a lot more this year and didn’t let us get away with as much as before.”
The Whippets will be a force to be reckoned with next year, it appears, as well. Five regional qualifiers are back, including state qualifiers, Zapf and Nick Lilley.
The bar has been set, and Breese, or at least his wife, Kim, would love another excuse to buy a new suit.