The 2016-17 wrestling season brought several impressive performances, but Upper Darby’s Brian Kennerly, who compiled a 38-0 record and the PIAA Class 3A state title at 220 pounds on his way to Daily Times Wrestler of the Year, stood out among the rest.
Kennerly put together a dominant senior season, but there are a plethora of wrestlers returning this season ready to build upon previous strong campaigns.
Here are some of the top returning wrestlers in Delaware County…
Hunter Catka, Sun Valley: When head coach Tom Ellis inserted a freshman to compete in the 195-pound matches, some would have been skeptical about his decision, but there was something special about Catka.
“We knew that we was a special kid and very talented,” Ellis said. “We weren’t really blindsided by what he accomplished last year.”
Catka put together a 34-7 record with all seven losses coming to state qualifiers. He had success at every level, from finishing second in the Ches-Mont League championships to third at districts to fourth at regionals and ultimately a trip to states. Catka did not think the success he had last year was initially possible but his head coach saw what he was doing on the mat and continued to push him.
“When I spoke to Coach Ellis and started putting in extra work, I knew I could go pretty far,” Catka said. “He told me to believe in myself and that I could accomplish whatever I wanted to do if I put my mind to it.”
He set the Sun Valley freshman record for wins and pins (13). Ellis truly began to see the potential in his young freshman when he went up against South Philadelphia’s Miles Lee in December. Lee, who finished fifth at states, won a major decision, 15-7, but it revealed a lot of what would eventually take Catka to a memorable season.
“Last year was only his fourth year wrestling so it wasn’t his technique,” Catka said. “It was more of his physical stature. He was very lean and only carries about six percent body fat, so he’s physically imposing.”
Catka spent the offseason training with Greg Hagel, the new head wrestling coach at the Haverford School. Now up to 220 lbs., Catka has also been competing in 285-pound matches and holding his own. Heading into his sophomore season, he’s learning to be in a new weight class and that has only amplified the expectations he has for himself.
“Work even harder and go farther,” Catka said. “My goals are set even higher this year and I’m looking to make some noise.”
Blair Orr, Episcopal Academy: When thinking about his match against Blair Academy’s Nick Incontrera, Orr is able to put his junior season into perspective.
Incontrera, who was the top seed at last year’s National Prep Championships, came into the match as the favorite but that didn’t affect Orr’s outlook on the match. He defeated Incontrera, 4-2, in a consolation bout and, in the process, earned All-American honors. Orr capped off his season in impressive fashion and that win has been his driving force heading into his senior season.
“Toward the end of the year, I knew I was prepared to make a run,” Orr said. “At states, I didn’t perform at my best and ended up taking fourth. I still qualified for nationals but I knew I had to fix some things. I did what I had to and took down the number one seed.”
In three seasons, Orr compiled a 115-28 record, including a 46-8 mark last year. Last year was the culmination of a lot of time and effort. As a freshman and sophomore, he was still growing into his body and struggled to stay within his weight class. Coming into his junior year, Orr had a chip on his shoulder to prove he could contend with the top wrestlers, not only in the area but in the country and head coach Damon Kuzemka said that was the next step in his maturation.
“He came into the year with a lot of hype. During his ninth and 10th grade year, he was undersized at 120. He won a lot of matches but when he would go against the top guys, he was at a big disadvantage.”
Kuzemka noted a match with Germantown Academy’s Chris Kim at last year’s Beast of the East tournament. Orr lost that match, 7-2, but he enacted revenge on a bigger stage against Kim at the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament. The head coach also attributed Orr’s success to focusing his time in the offseason solely on wrestling.
“He didn’t really begin to wrestle full-time until his sophomore (year),” Kuzemka said. “That was when he began doing it outside of the wrestling season. There wasn’t any regularity before that. He would do a tournament here and there, but the spring after his sophomore year was when he started doing offseason work and focusing on wrestling all year-round.”
Kuzemka has emphasized how winning over 100 matches is an accomplishment in itself but he said Orr is “hoping to get to 150” before his career ends. Having finally grown into his body and taking momentum from his junior year, Orr has the confidence to take on any opponent and come out with a positive result.
“My mindset for this year is I don’t fear anyone,” Orr said. “I’m ready to beat the top guys in the nation or whoever they put out in front of me. I don’t care who they put out in front of me.”
Brendon Stocku, Penncrest: While Dayton DelViscio burst onto the scene for the Lions, Stocku has steadily improved, finishing last season with a 36-5 record with 11 major decisions and claiming the Central League 132-pound title. He placed sixth at districts as a freshman followed by a fifth-place finish last year. Heading into his junior year, Stocku is on pace to break the Penncrest record for wins (108), which was set by his older brother, Ryan, last season.
Connor Tracy, Haverford School: Tracy’s sophomore season finished with a third-place finish at the Independent Schools championships. He compiled a 29-9 record and was one of six Haverford School wrestlers to receive an invitation to Prep Nationals.
Alex Sladek, Episcopal Academy: Orr wasn’t the only member of the Churchmen to put together a successful season in 2016-17. Sladek had a 41-11 record in his freshman season, which earned him an Second Team All-Delco nod. Sladek is primed to continue that momentum as a sophomore.
Ryan Shepherd, Haverford School: Another member of a dominant Fords squad, Shepherd had a 32-8 record, one of which was a decision over EA’s Orr, as a sophomore and he garnered a second team All-Delco selection for his resume.
Marcus Mojica, Upper Darby: While Kennerly got a lot of the attention, Mojica quietly put together a good year with a 16-14 record with six won by major decision, a fourth-place finish at districts and a trip to regionals. Now a junior, Mojica will no longer be wrestling in Kennerly’s
imposing shadow with the Royals and instead is looking to pick up some of the leadership slack with Kennerly’s departure.
Chase McCollum, Haverford School: While teammate Chris Kober advanced to the championship quarterfinals of the Independent Schools state tournament, McCollum finished in third place in the 138-pound class after downing Springside Chestnut Hill’s Kyle Williams, 7-3. He finished his sophomore season with a 31-9 record and a spot on the All-Delco second team selection.
Noah Harvey, Chichester: The first wrestler on our list from the Del Val League put together a 26-9 record, which included 16 wins by fall,
and posted a fifth place finish at districts, after not placing in his first two seasons.
David Bagirov, Springfield: The second member from the Central League had a 27-8 record last season, which included a 5-2 decision over Mojica, and has qualified for districts in two of his three years with the Cougars. He placed fifth in the PIAA District 1 3A last year and looks to be in position for another strong season in 2017-18.
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