My favorite part of watching an athlete accomplish something great is seeing the reactions afterwards.
When Downingtown West’s Doug Zapf won the 106-pound state championship Saturday night, his smile lit up the Giant Center.
Scan over to the front row of the stands, and Doug’s father Joe’s eyes were welling up with pride. Farther up, Doug’s mother, Maureen, went from row to row, hugging friends and family.
Downingtown West coaches Rob Akers, left, and Brad Breese after Zapf's semifinal win. (Nate Heckenberger - For Digital First Media)
Earlier in the day, when Zapf won his semifinal bout, assistant coach Rob Akers bounded from his chair while head coach Brad Breese stayed planted in his, smiling like he was watching his own son fulfill a dream.
It is so hard to win a state championship in wrestling, especially out of District 1, and even more specifically from Chester County. The PIAA had its first wrestling championships in 1938 and since then, 12 wrestlers, one measly dozen, from the current Ches-Mont League have won titles.
Zapf was not the most dominant wrestler the Ches-Mont had ever seen, but he was just so solid.
Years of refining his technique and formula for winning as an undersized underclassman finally came to fruition. He won on his feet all postseason, and gave up just four takedowns all season.
“Doug had a good career before high school and there were a lot of expectations from around the area that he would do this or do that,” Breese said. “His freshman year, they didn’t realize how much hard work went in to win just an average match. For him to win (31) matches that year, wrestling kids that were ten, fifteen pounds heavier than him, was an amazing fete. That gave him his mental toughness and really fueled him.”
Zapf is the first local to win a state title as a junior since Octorara’s Mike Letts in 2005. He will also be able to say he won his championship the same night Exeter’s Austin DeSanto knocked off Spencer Lee of Franklin Regional.
Lee was undefeated in high school, going for his fourth title, and had beaten DeSanto in the finals the year prior by technical fall. All season DeSanto claimed he was going to drop from 132 to 126 to face Lee again.
Exeter's Austin DeSanto against Franklin Regional's Spencer Lee (Nate Heckenberger - For Digital First Media)
He stayed true to his word and he rocked the wrestling world with one of the most sensational
matches in PIAA history. The Giant Center was went from a soft roar at the beginning of the match to a volcanic eruption by the end, and it was a true David and Goliath moment that will be talked about forever.
The beautiful thing about sports is the successes and failures do not define the athlete. The hard work and sacrifice is what chisels out character and makes these young men who they’ll be as they head into the real world.
You get to know these kids, as they grow up from awkward, brace-faced freshmen into the statue of David by the time they’re seniors. I’d never outwardly cheer for a kid I’m covering, but inwardly it’s rewarding to see them succeed.
You feel for a kid like West Chester Rustin’s Brett Kaliner, who did everything right for four years and busted his butt in some of the deepest weights in the state, fall one match short of the medal he’s dreamed about all his life. Or Oxford’s David Cox. Or West Chester Henderson’s Jake Reid, or any of the many seniors every year that get so close.
They have a ton to be proud of and the best is yet to come with the work ethic they’ve developed.
The best may be yet to come from the Whippets, as a team, as well.
West loses just Cole Zapf, Gio Angelini and Alex Murta to graduation. Doug Zapf and fellow state qualifier, Nick Lilley, will be back, as will regional qualifiers, Gavin Hale, Chris Madanat and Jesse Cook.
With Max Hale, Joe Shafer and Chase Meilnick, among others, returning for the Whippets, West appears destined to compete for a District 1 Duals championship.
There are also four other returning state qualifiers joining the West duo — Rustin’s Dan Labus and Collin Hurley, Henderson’s Killian Delaney and Downingtown East’s Lukas Richie.
The league is in good hands and the future is bright.