On the verge of Octorara’s last postseason in District 1, coach Mark Durante asks the same question he always has.
“If someone has to win, why not us?”
It’s a simple enough mantra, but a fitting one for a program that seemingly wrestles its best in the postseason, whether anyone expects it or not.
Before heading to the Lancaster-Lebanon League in District 3 next school year, Octorara will have its swan song at the Ches-Mont Championships at West Chester Rustin, Saturday, beginning at 9 am.
The Braves are led by a trio of returning regional qualifiers — Seth Hoopes (120 pounds), Liam Babauta (126) and Caden Dalton (152) — who take pride in overachieving.
“We’ve had some kids, when the pressure is on, they rise to it,” Durante said. “Sometimes it’s the underdog story, too. We’re under the radar and nobody looks at us and sometimes we get overlooked, and that’s a good thing. We wrestle a pretty tough schedule and tough kids and we prepare just like the bigger schools. I preach that too, that they’re just as good even if no one recognizes us.”
Dalton fit the mold for Octorara last year when he filled the seventh and final spot at leagues, but managed his way to fourth at districts to reach his first regional tournament.
The Ches-Mont will send the top six to the District 1 Central tournament the following Saturday. Less-accomplished grapplers dream of becoming the next Ryan Sharpless, who went from never competing at districts to becoming a regional finalist and state qualifier as a senior for Octorara last year.
“The one thing I do is not do anything different,” Durante said. “We don’t change things in the postseason and develop a routine at that point. The other thing is, some of our kids are just hungrier and just don’t want it to end. I’m always looking for an edge where we can get it, but if it’s not broken during the season, why change it?”
It’s been 11 years since Octorara became a member of the Ches-Mont after the Southern Chester County League joined. After being a Class 2A school for awhile, the Braves are in their eighth year in 3A, but will go back to 2A next year.
Since Durante took the helm in 2004, 11 Braves have reached states at least once. Nine medals have been earned in that span, with Mike Letts’ two state titles the shining moments.
“Obviously I have a lot of memories and relationships with coaches and kids from around the area,” Durante said. “I would have loved to win the Ches-Mont. It’s a great challenge. We’ve been middle of the pack or on the lower tier, but to me, the challenge was to try and rise up. … I feel like we’re finally starting to come back. We’re not the type of program like some who bounce right back and reload. It took us awhile to reload and be able to compete and now we have to leave.”
Now a look at what to look forward to at all 14 weights.
It would seem there should be plenty of highly-competitive, close matches at this weight, as well as a window in the the future of the league. Five freshmen with at least 17 wins join Coatesville sophomore Brennan McBride. On the top of the bracket, with top-seeded McBride, are West Chester Henderson’s Sammy McMonagle and Rustin’s Josh Viarengo. Below, Downingtown East’s Keanu Manuel and Oxford’s Cooper Johnson should battle out for the other finals spot.
Henderson’s Killian Delaney is 9-0 at this weight since dropping last month. He has some impressive wins on his resume during his sophomore season and is a heavy favorite to win his first league title. Coatesville’s talented freshman Nathan Lucier and Oxford’s Kevin Quin could square off in the opposite semifinal. Lucier edged Quin, 4-3, earlier in the season. Unionville’s Dom Chaclas recently dropped and will be a factor.
Downingtown West’s Doug Zapf begins his quest to compete for another state championship as the top seed, having won two straight league titles. While drama in the finals is not expected, there should be some in a semifinal between Octorara’s Seth Hoopes and West Chester East’s Corey Celenza. They have never met and would make for one of the more intriguing interleague matchups. Seniors Logan Reigel of Kennett and Jordan Howard of Avon Grove will also have a say.
Downingtown East’s Lukas Richie won his first league title last year and is the pick to go back-to-back. Octorara’s Liam Babauta has been to regionals two straight years and West Chester East’s Tommy Luke is a win away from reaching 100 for his career. They could meet in the semis. Unionville’s Jacob Lehman impressed a year ago and will look to add his name to the mix, while Kennett freshman Trent Kochersperger makes his postseason debut.
Welcome to the most compelling class of the tournament. Wednesday, Unionville’s Caden Mareno was cleared to compete for the first time in the PIAA after wrestling the first three-and-a-half years of his career at McDonogh School (Md.). Mareno finished sixth at the National Prep tournament last winter. Oxford’s Brandon Sheffield, who missed most of the season due to an injury, will make his debut at this weight. Meanwhile, Kennett’s returning regional qualifier, Gerhardt Reiter, has been here the whole time and is the top seed. Add in West Chester East’s Jamison Eadie, Downingtown West’s Chase Hanak, Avon Grove’s John Bosio, Downingtown East’s Kyle Mittelstadt, Coatesville’s Shamaur Hall and Rustin’s Alex Pratzner, and some talent will be staying home next weekend.
Downingtown West is happy to send out Nick Lilley as the top seed after his season was in doubt after sustaining an injury last Friday at the PIAA Duals. Downingtown East’s Brett Horne missed time at the end of the season and is currently sitting on 99 career wins. Great Valley’s Luke Wilson will try to block Horne’s path to his first finals appearance. Henderson’s Luke Phayre will not be an easy out, either.
The two top seeds, Rustin’s Tyler Kaliner and Avon Grove’s Nick Barnhart, are hoping to take the next step as returning regional qualifiers. Kaliner finished sixth in the region last year and would love a chance to avenge a loss to Barnhart in their only meeting at the beginning of last season. There is not a ton experience elsewhere as only three of the remaining 10 entrants have winning records.
A senior-heavy bracket should make for fascinating matches. Rustin’s Dan Labus is the top seed as a returning state qualifier, after missing much of his senior year to injury and illness. Downingtown West’s Gavin Hale is No. 2 with 98 career wins and on the same side as Octorara’s Caden Dalton.. Henderson’s Matt Phayre is having his best season and is No. 4.
Rustin’s Collin Hurley won league and district titles at this weight a year ago, but after missing a big chunk of his junior season, he will have his work cut out to do it again. Top-seeded Ray Martin of Henderson is 28-2 and has the look of a senior poised to make his last postseason his best. Downingtown East’s tough freshman, Matt Romanelli, could push for a top-three finish.
Three of the top five ranked wrestlers in District 1 (on pa-wrestling.com) will go at it in this bracket. Downingtown West’s Max Hale earned the top seed after a strong sophomore regular season. Unionville’s Tyler Mousaw and West Chester East’s could get a rematch from a week ago in the semis. Mousaw was an 8-2 winner in that one. The experience level drops dramatically after the top three.
Great Valley’s Ethan Seeley has lost just once in 28 bouts this year as he strives to continue his ascension. On the other side of the bracket is Downingtown West’s Chase Mielnik, who has 31 wins. Rustin’s Ethan Harkins bumped up, giving himself a better shot at going deep into the postseason and will face Avon Grove’s Chris Buonocore, a 22-match winner after notching just three the year before, in the quarterfinals.
Coatesville’s Alex Raimondo pulled somewhat of an upset when he won the title at this weight last year. Now he’ll be the favorite, as he owns a win over No. 2 Downingtown East’s Josh Wileczek earlier this season. Downingtown West’s Joe Shafer can keep the score close, giving him a chance to win at the end.
Super sophomore Hunter Catka of Sun Valley has won 20 straight bouts is a force as a returning state qualifier. Downingtown West’s Chris Madanat will try to find Catka in the finals, but the senior Whippet will have to get past Oxford’s Sam Blevins first. Bryan Castaneda of Kennett is a 20-match winner the fourth seed.
Downingtown West’s Jesse Cook has come a long way from winning just four total bouts in his first two years to becoming the winningest heavyweight in the district, with 29 victories. His ability to turn opponents on top makes him dangerous. West Chester East’s Joseph Timm has already tied his career high with 21 wins as a senior.
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