MALVERN >> It’s a Thursday evening in early April and Downingtown West’s Doug Zapf and Malvern Prep’s Mike Beard are drilling in Malvern’s gym.
University of Maryland coach Kerry McCoy sits in the corner watching while Todd Kindig, father of former PIAA champ and NCAA finalist Josh Kindig, runs a voluntary practice.
Zapf and Beard are not even a month removed from completing their dream junior seasons, and they’re back at it. Rather, they’re still at.
Beard (195 pounds) ran the table this winter, going 50-0 and winning his second straight state and national prep titles. Zapf (106) was nearly perfect, losing twice, but not in the postseason, where he culminated it with a state championship.
Their accomplishments are great in their respective realms, making Beard and Zapf the 2017 Daily Local News’ Co-Wrestlers of the Year.
Still, there is work to be done, and the duo presses on in hopes of a repeat swan song next season.
“I’m looking for the best competition next year and I think I’ll like having a target on my back,” Zapf said. “I’m not afraid of losing. I want the best competition there is. I can’t look at everything as if I’m afraid of losing.”
Since 1976, when the PIAA began its Class 2A and 3A format of state championships, 298 wrestlers from current Ches-Mont League teams have qualified for the 3A tournament. When Zapf topped Shaler’s Ryan Sullivan, 5-2, in the state finals, he became just the seventh from the league to capture a 3A gold in that span.
“Even a week after I was still getting congratulated when I was at different places,” Zapf said. “It’s really big for the town.”
Beard’s run was much more expected, and despite being 80-plus pounds more than Zapf, the Friar provided nonstop action.
He scored bonus points in 49 of 50 bouts, including a 17-9 major decision over an eventual PIAA state champion, Travis Stefanik of Nazareth.
Only five locals had gone undefeated through a season since 1976, the latest being Coatesville’s Mike Boykin in 2014. Beard had as good a season as anyone in Chester County’s history.
“The only thing I could’ve done better, I didn’t major or tech one kid, so that was disappointing,” Beard said. “But other than that, it was a perfect year”
Along the way, Beard won titles at the Walsh Ironman, Beast of the East and Escape the Rock and is currently ranked No. 2 in the country on intermat.com.
“I don’t think he could’ve had a better season,” Malvern coach Nate Lautar said. “It’s not like we wrestle a soft schedule. We go to everything and try to put the best competition in front of him and and he won every single one of them.”
As West stepped its schedule up a bit, Zapf seemed to get challenged every week. He began the season with a win over 2A sixth-place medalist, Chase Shields of Bishop McDevitt, and later knocked off 3A third, Dalton Rohrbaugh of Spring Grove, and 3A fourth, Brandon Meredith of Spring-Ford.
His two losses, both 3-1 decisions at 113 pounds, were to eventual 2A champ, Jaret Lane of Southern Columbia and eventual 3A sixth placer Cameron Enriquez of Stroudsburg.
“We’ve had talented kids at West forever, and this time of year it was ‘Do we have to do this or do we have to do that?’” West coach Brad Breese said. “Maybe his freshman year I told Doug things to do, but since then he tells me where we’re going or what he’s doing. He’s so self-motivated and I think that’s the difference of why so many other kids couldn’t get there and he did.”
While Zapf may just be registering on college radars, Beard is blipping again on nearly everyone’s — which is why McCoy visited, as well as Penn State’s Cael Sanderson the week before and many others slated to in the future.
Beard originally committed to Northwestern University, but after the season he reopened his recruitment.
“I wanted to explore more options,” Beard said. “I committed a little early and accepted my first offer. I just want to explore more options.”
Chester County hasn’t often had the amount of top-end talent returning as it will next year, but no doubt the challengers will be lining up to take their shots. Whether or not they worked as hard as Beard and Zapf, remains to be seen.