POTTSTOWN >> It was already going to be a big week for the Owen J. Roberts wrestling team.
Apparently big wasn’t big enough for the Wildcats.
Instead of a week that featured just a match for the outright Pioneer Athletic Conference title – Wednesday at Spring-Ford – the Wildcats now have to head to Hershey.
Owen J. Roberts earned its place in this weekend’s PIAA Class AAA Team Wrestling Championships at the Giant Center with a 46-21 victory over Archbishop Wood in the first round of the state duals Monday night at OJR.
By downing District 12 runner-up Archbishop Wood, the Wildcats advance to a Thursday matchup with District 11 champion Nazareth at 6 p.m. in Hershey.
Owen J. Roberts’ Cole Meredith, left, looks to collect back points against Archbishop Wood’s Zach Shaffer during their bout at 138 Monday in a PIAA Team Wrestling Championship first round match. (Austin Hertzog - Digital First Media)
It took a major effort to go 3-0 in consolations Friday and Saturday during the District 1-AAA Duals at Pottsgrove, something they managed to carry over two days later.
“We had a lot of guys step up with a lot of emotion Saturday,” OJR coach Steve DeRafelo said. “The last few weeks we’ve beaten Boyertown, Methacton twice and ran through that duals run, you start to wonder, ‘How many times can these guys keep bringing it?’ But I guess they can keep bringing it.”
OJR last reached Hershey as a team in 2012-13, meaning this is the first time any member of the Wildcats has qualified to states as a team.
“It was a goal of mine ever since last season ended. It’s great to see it come true. We knew it was a big match, our first chance to win a state dual in our home gym so we all knew we had to bring it,” OJR senior Luke Resnick said. “It’s pretty much the same mentality the whole time – we’ve worked hard all season and we knew coming in that we should make it to Hershey and we want to make it to Hershey. Our hard work in the practice room would pay off.”
The Wildcats turned a 15-15 deadlock with Archbishop Wood into a one-sided finish thanks to a seven-bout winning streak ignited by surprise entrant Aiden Renn at 120 and punctuated by a technical fall from Luke Resnick (126), majors from Cole Meredith (138) and Ryan Resnick (160) and pins from Dan Mancini (145) and unsung Ricky McCutchen (152), whose second-period pin decided the day by putting OJR up 39-15 with three bouts remaining.
McCutchen’s performance was a fitting final touch in a match the Wildcats so often made go their way.
Entering with a 6-16 record and matched up with Wood’s Matthew Palage (21-12), ‘on paper’ was not in the OJR sophomore’s favor.
McCutchen gave up an early takedown but rallied in the second period for a takedown of his own and proceeded to get the match-deciding pin in 2:24.
“I was kind of shocked when he took me down in the beginning because I didn’t have good defense yet. I just refocused, hit my reset button – we’ve learned to use that with Wrestling Mindset – and got back to wrestling,” McCutchen said. “The setbacks I’ve had this year – I had an AC sprain in my shoulder and my ankle’s been messed up a bit – made it special. I just went out there and wrestled.”
“It was a whole team effort. Everybody really showed up and was ready to work and give everything they could.”
Owen J. Roberts' Alejandro Acosta pins Archbishop Wood's Jeremy Wertz in 2:54 in the PIAA-AAA pigtail round Monday night. (Austin Hertzog - Digital First Media)
Coach DeRafelo has come to expect the unexpected, in the best way possible.
“It’s really kind of weird. If you add up all their talent, it doesn’t equal what you see – they come out and they perform above what they are. It’s fun to watch,” DeRafelo said.
The match opened rapidly with a forfeit for OJR’s Nick Duliakas at 195 followed by a :16 pin for Wood’s Connor Bishop. OJR heavyweight Alejandro Acosta pinned Jeremy Wertz in 2:54 before Vikings standout T.J. England won by major over Dunleavy and Max Shaffer followed at 113 with a tech fall for a 15-12 Wood lead.
But OJR came to life with Renn – who’d wrestled just once this season – going out at 120 to match fellow surprise Tommy Hooven (Wood bumped Stephen Veneziale from 120 and OJR responded in kind) in what would be a rousing 5-3 win for Renn. Also in the middleweight run, Antonio Petrucelli won 4-3 over Alex Shaffer.
Owen J. Roberts' Antonio Petrucelli, top, works against Archbishop Wood's Alex Shaffer at 132 during their PIAA Team Wrestling Championships first round match Monday. (Austin Hertzog - Digital First Media)
But Wood coach Chris Meister felt his team was done in by the successive pins at 145 and 152. Untimely pins have been a recurring theme for Wood, according to Meister.
“We lost two tough ones to Father Judge and it was the same story – our guys give up pins when that can’t happen,” he said.
There have been plenty of signs of growth for Wood in Meister’s tenure. The head coach hopes the greatest growth will come following their prelim defeat.
“Six years ago when I took the team over we had six guys,” Meister said. “The first three years we had no more than 15 kids and now we’ve built that up to 38 guys in the roster. We’re still wrestling tonight when most teams are done.
“But we just expected last year to be on the floor of states at the duals and we fell short of Judge. We expected to do the same this year and we fell short again. Hopefully, eventually, after lots of lessons you begin to learn so we hope that’s the case here.”