It’s been a dozen years since a returning champ called Chester County its home, so forgive Downingtown West’s Doug Zapf if when he walks into local gyms, all eyes lock on him.
Zapf is eight months removed from becoming the 12th state champion in Chester County history, rolling his way through the 106-pound bracket.
Now, as a senior, he’s the top wrestler on the top local public school team and will surely get the best effort from each and every opponent he squares off against this winter.
“It’s not really about defending a state title, it’s about just keep getting better,” Zapf said. “I went to a lot of big tournaments this summer and never did as much as I did this offseason. I focused on the little things and kind of went back to the basics, working on simple things in all positions. I just tried to get better every day.”
Zapf, who has 109 career wins to his name already, will start at 126 pounds before settling into 120 for the postseason. He is the area’s first returning champ since Octorara’s Mike Letts won as a junior in 2005.
Like Letts, Zapf went from state qualifier without medaling as a sophomore to winning it all the following year. Now, Zapf hopes to duplicate Letts’ feat of winning two in a row.
“For me, it was good because there was a target on you,” said Letts, who was a perfect 43-0 as a senior. “It was a good thing because people would step up their game and it made me have to reach that high level of performance every time.”
Only two other underclassmen from the Ches-Mont League have ever won titles — Glenn Koser for Downingtown in 1981, and Jermaine Jones for West Chester Henderson in 2000 and 2001. Health played a part in both failing to claim golds as seniors.
Zapf, who started his career trying to bulk up to 106 pounds, dedicated his offseason to putting on size as he traveled the country wrestling in many of the biggest offseason tournaments.
The busy summer should help as the depth of talent is typically deepest in that 120-132 range and Zapf will need to get to his offense more and more.
“You see how he attacks guys at times when he has to, and that’s something he developed last year,” West coach Brad Breese said. “His typical match he’ll get ahead and stay ahead, but when he gets behind he really lets it go. He’s more fun to watch, actually, when he’s behind.”
Other area returning state qualifiers are Downingtown East’s Lukas Richie (126 pounds), West Chester Rustin’s Collin Hurley (152) and Dan Labus (160), Henderson’s Killian Delaney (113) and another Whippet, Nick Lilley (138).
Lilley, Zapf and a West team that is very sturdy in the second half of its lineup appear poised to improve on a fourth-place finish in the District 1 Duals last year.
“One of the biggest things is the team and seeing how we fair,” Zapf said. “A lot of guys did a lot in the offseason and we work hard every day.”
Also during his summer, Zapf committed to wrestle at the University of Penn next year. It was about as good of a 2017 as he could’ve drawn it up.
Topping it will be difficult in many regards, but if Zapf is able to end his career at the Giant Center in Hershey, taking another page out of Letts’ book won’t be a bad idea.
“I felt more comfortable,” said Letts of his third trip to states. “But I never looked ahead. I knew I couldn’t win the state championship in the first match, so I wrestled one at a time and I knew if I wrestled the way I could and competed the way I could, I could expect good results.”
That’s the way Zapf did it a year ago, so don’t expect anything to change. Even if he does walk around with a champion glow this season.
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