HOLLAND – Council Rock South wrestling coach Brad Silimperi is a big believer in the next-man-up philosophy in directing his band of mat warriors. But even a seasoned skipper like Coach Sil had to admit the defending District 1-AAA Dual Meet Golden Hawks lost a lot to graduation in June.
Gone are middleweights Riley and Cary Palmer, “Big Play” Joe Doyle, who solidified the upper half of the lineup, and Zack Trampe, a 2017 state champion at 132 pounds who notched 166 wins during his time on Rock Way. The Class of 2017 helped the Hawks capture first place in the Suburban One National League, District 1-AAA East and South East Region tournaments. South also took a sixth-place medal in states.
“Last year was an extremely successful season for us,” said Silimperi. “But there’s no way that you can replace that group of seniors. We’re talking 100s and 100s of wins and countless medals that they won at tournaments.
“What they did for themselves, our program and our school community – you just can’t replace guys like that.
“With that said, last year’s over and done with now. Now, this group has a chance to do something special for themselves this season.”
With practice recently opening up on Nov. 17, Silimperi and his crew will have to work quickly to fill the slots vacated by Trampe, Doyle and the Palmer twins.
Before departing for SUNY–Binghamton, Doyle notched 128 wins, three league titles, two district championships, three region trophies and a pair of state medals.
Trampe –who is also wrestling at Binghamton – was twice a region champ, three times a District 1 titlest and four-times a league title winner.
Riley Palmer was a two-time regional champ at 145 pounds who medaled in states as a freshman and won back to back region trophies his last two years at South. Brother Cary was a 138-pounder who captured a D1 title belt as a senior, recording 60 wins and qualifying for states his last two years for the Hawks.
“Any school across the country would obviously miss a group of guys like that,” admitted senior Ben Radner. “I don’t think it’s so much about replacing them as it is getting our next men up to step into their roles.
“I really think we’re strong in every aspect this year; I’m excited to see what the year has in store with all the new faces in the lineup.”
This year, Radner is the elder statesman on a team that is in the process of reshaping its identity. Big Ben qualified for states as a freshman, missed out on the postseason his sophomore year with a concussion then failed to place at regionals last season after grabbing a 120-pound runner-up trophy at districts.
Still, with 69 mat triumphs and a .711 win percentage, Radner has an outside shot to reach 100 career victories this year as a senior.
Last year, Ben helped his team get over the Boyertown hump when he pinned Bears 120-pounder Conor Neiswender in the D1 Duals final. After falling to Boyertown in the D1 finale the previous two years, the Hawks finally got past them, 38-24.
“We like to say in our wrestling room ‘we hold ourselves to a higher standard,’ explained Radner.
“Nothing against other teams; maybe they’ll win the league, everyone will be celebrating. While all that’s going on, we’ll be winning matches at the state tournament.”
Returning to the mat for his junior season is Max Mendez, a junior who captured league, district and regional medals on his way to 44 wins and a berth in states last season.
Senior Mike McKinney – who wrestled anywhere from 126 to 138 last season – returns for his final year on the mat. McKinney medaled in districts two years ago but did not compete in the individual postseason tournaments as a junior.
In D1 Duals, McKinney went 3-1 including a convincing 8-2 triumph over Spring-Ford senior Jake Pajovitch. In states, he went 1-1 including an impressive win over Erie Cathedral Prep 132-pounder Spencer Staab, a senior with 23 wins and a regional medal to his credit last season.
“Mike McKinney has been a crucial part of what we’ve done the past three years,” said Silimperi. “Here’s a kid who – whatever weight we needed him to go at, whether that’s bumping up or trying to get down a weight, filling in for guys with injuries – and every single year, he does his job.”
Senior Collin Waterman (113-20) may have had more losses than wins last year but he both qualified for and won a medal in 2016 districts as a sophomore. Classmate Nik Korbich went .500 at 15-15 last year but he won leagues, took second in districts and qualified for regionals at 182 pounds.
Senior Braden Ricchini had one more loss than he had wins last season but he captured a league title belt at 113 pounds while taking second in districts. Also at 113 pounds, the Hawks have senior Shane Hanson-Ashworth, a recent transfer from Malvern Prep who took second at Escape the Rock last year and third at Prep Nationals.
Junior Shane Anderson is coming off an 11-25 season but he medaled in leagues and districts while qualifying for regionals at 285 pounds.
Both sophomore Cole Flanagan and junior L.J. Kahn are coming off 21-win campaigns. While Flanagan didn’t make it out of districts, Kahn was a win away from making it to states, falling to sixth place at regionals after tough decision losses to Upper Darby senior Max Livingston and Boyertown senior Max Berry.
“We don’t have the superstars we had last year; that group is gone,” added Silimperi. “We have to find the next group of stars.
“I haven’t been this excited about a group of kids in a long time. I think you’re going to see kids that were part of the program last year make huge jumps.”
“We’re going to find the mistakes and build on them each weak and peak when we’re supposed to peak, the same way we’ve done for the past 17 years – in the postseason.”
Like it does every year, South opens the season Dec. 8-9 at the Cumberland Valley Kickoff.
Last year, the Hawks took fifth place in the tournament with help from Trampe and Doyle, who both captured CVK title belts.
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