HERSHEY — During the parade of champions, Downingtown West’s Doug Zapf couldn’t help but squint his eyes as the spotlight shone down on him.
When he finally got on the mat to wrestle in the 106-pound final of the Class 3A PIAA Championships, Zapf didn’t shy away from the bright lights.
He basked in them.
Using a 5-2 decision over Shaler’s Ryan Sullivan, Zapf became West’s first state champion, capping a dream season for the junior lightweight, Saturday at the Giant Center.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Zapf said. “How hard I worked for this and how much I overcame to get here, it’s amazing.”
Coatesville’s Chase Stephens (152 pounds) took fourth and Conestoga’s Eric Hutchinson (138) placed seventh, but the night belonged to Zapf (well, and Austin DeSanto).
In the morning session, Zapf worked a 5-1 win over Nazareth’s Andrew Cerniglia in the semifinals. Against Sullivan he scored a takedown late in the first period, and led 4-0 before giving up his first takedown of the tournament. Zapf shook it off and rode out Sullivan in the third to become the third state champ from the Downingtown district, joining Glen Koser and Mark Conley.
“It’s great,” West coach Brad Breese said. “I’m elated for him. Watching him win that title and thinking back on days when he couldn’t beat guys like that. He would take it so hard. He’d sit in the corner and say everything he worked for was gone, but he didn’t realize everything he worked for was still ahead of him.”
Zapf weighed under 100 pounds as a freshman and even last year, he wasn’t a full-sized 106-pounder. This year he finally grew into the weight and in his second trip to Hersey, he won four decisions by a combined score of 18-5.
“It’s definitely more sweet because I think if I wasn’t 95 pounds (as a freshman) I wouldn’t have been where I am today,” Zapf said. “I think I battled more and it made me a lot tougher, a lot tougher all around.”
Zapf became the 12th champ from teams currently in the Ches-Mont League, and first since Coatesville’s Mike Boykin in 2014.
Stephens took the hard way to the consolation finals after falling to Belle Vernon’s Brock Godzin in the first round, Thursday night. He won four straight, including a rematch over Godzin in the consi semis, earning himself five stitches on his right eyebrow after the match.
In the third-place bout, Canon McMillan’s Gerrit Nijenhuis was a 4-1 winner.
“I knew if I pushed myself harder than ever, I could place higher than last year,” said Stephens, who took seventh as a junior. “I took one match at a time and sometimes you meet a person who matches you and ends up beating you. It’s tough”
Stephens will go down as one of the best ever from Coatesville, finishing with a school record 154 wins, which is tied for second-most in Ches-Mont history, as well as the league record for career pins (105). He’s the second two-time state medalist from Coatesville and pushes it’s streak of consecutive years with a medalist to five.
“It feels good to be able to medal twice,” Stephens said. “Wrestling six matches and taking fourth at states is an accomplishment I’ll be proud of.”
Conestoga’s Eric Hutchinson (138) went out on a high note with a 2-1 win over Moon’s Nick Acuna. After starting the day with a 9-4 loss to Hempfield’s Luke Kemerer, Hutchinson came out on top in rideout against Acuna.
“It means a lot,” Hutchinson said. “People have been overlooking me all season and it was my biggest motivation. After not making it out of districts last year I really started to focus on wrestling this summer to try to become one of the best.”
Hutchinson finished his career with a record of 110-33.
Exeter’s DeSanto was voted Outstanding Wrestler for defeating Franklin Regional’s Spencer Lee, 6-5. It was Lee’s first career high school loss.
Council Rock South’s Zack Trampe (132) and Upper Darby’s Brian Kennerly (220) won state championships from District 1.
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