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HECKENBERGER: New batch of youngsters has Ches-Mont League thinking big

HERSHEY >> Times, they are a’changing in the Ches-Mont League.

After a 13 year drought from 2001-2014 when no one from Ches-Mont claimed gold at the PIAA tournament (Octorara’s Mike Letts was in the Southern Chester County League when he won two in a row), all of a sudden the league has three champions in the past five years.

Coatesville’s Mike Boykin (220 pounds) broke the streak in 2014, Downingtown West’s Doug Zapf (106) won another last season and Sun Valley’s Hunter Catka (220) added his first, Saturday night.

What’s different about the current state of the Ches-Mont is the talent is younger. Zapf was the first area returning state champ to grace local gyms since Letts in 2005-06.

Come next winter, Catka will only be a junior, as well as West Chester Henderson’s state runner-up, Killian Delaney (113). West’s Max Hale (sixth at 170) and Unionville’s Tyler Mousaw (eighth at 170) will only be in their third seasons as well.

Of the 18 Ches-Mont wrestlers who qualified for the state tournaments, 12 — Coatesville’s Brennan McBride (106), Henderson’s Sammy McMonagle (106), Delaney and Luke Phayre (138), West Chester East’s Corey Celenza (120) and Andrew DiBernardo (170), Downingtown East’s Lukas Richie (126), Avon Grove’s Nick Barnhart (145), West’s Hale and Joe Shafer (195), Unionville’s Mousaw and Sun Valley’s Catka — will be back. That’s not counting Octorara’s Seth Hoopes, who will be competing in the Lancaster-Lebanon League next season.

Coatesville’s Brennan McBride (Nate Heckenberger – For Digital First Media)

District 1, is young in general, as 12 of the 18 state medalists were underclassmen.

It’s hard to dispute the rise of young talent around the Ches-Mont and throughout the district should only help make region stronger.

Zapf, as a returning state champ this season, may not have been the motivating factor for the area’s youngsters this season, but his presence certainly did not hurt a lightweight like Delaney, who got to see up close and personal what it takes to become a champion.

To see Zapf grind his way through a brute of a 120-pound bracket and reach his second straight state final is not only inspiring to the next generation of Ches-Mont stars, but a testament to how hard it can be to get back.

Much of the credit to the recent swoon of success in the Ches-Mont has to go to the club wrestling in the offseason. With clubs like Defiant, Turks Head and Malvern drawing talent from around the county and beyond, local wrestlers are being exposed to better competition outside the boundaries of District 1… which is absolutely imperative considering how poorly District 1 fares at most state tournaments, as a whole.

Downingtown East’s Lukas Richie (Nate Heckenberger – For Digital First Media)

It was not hard to spot those who worked hard, both before and during the season, and those who did not, come the regional tournament and beyond.

The Ches-Mont is not going to remind anyone of the leagues in District 7 or 11, but a trickle down effect of underclassmen success should only help the league to build on recent momentum.

Make no mistake, the good group of 106-pound freshmen like McMonagle, Downingtown East’s Keanu Manuel, Oxford’s Cooper Johnson and West Chester Rustin’s Josh Viarengo were watching Zapf and Delaney this postseason.

So were freshmen Nathan Lucier (113) of Coatesville, Kennett’s Trent Kochersperger (126) and Downingtown East’s Matt Romanelli (160).

And you know 182-pound sophomore, Chase Mielnik of Downingtown West, being sandwiched between a returning medalist (Hale) and qualifier (Shafer) all next season will make him even hungrier to improve on a sixth-place finish at regionals.

For now, the Ches-Mont is on the rise, and those who remain stagnant will be left behind.

Nate Heckenberger covers high school wrestling for the Daily Local News and Pa. Prep Live. You can reach him at nateheckenberger@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @nheckenberger.

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