HERSHEY >> Picture a steamroller flattening everything in its path.
But with the added twist of having a fast-paced motor.
That analogy effectively sums up Ryan Vulakh’s 2018-19 wrestling season. It ended up being a perfect one for the Pope John Paul II senior, who closed the book on the season this weekend by winning the Class AA 152-pound gold medal in the PIAA Championships at the Giant Center.
Vulakh, the older brother in a family wrestling tandem along with Matt, capped a 35-0 campaign by scoring a technical fall on Freedom Area’s Trent Schultheis. He built up a 20-5 lead to get the early stop at 5:10, becoming his school’s first state-level mat champion.
“This tournament, he just steamrolled everyone,” PJP head coach Tom Hontz noted. “It has to be the greatest season ever by a wrestler I coached.”
Vulakh enjoyed a dominating post-season that saw him win all 10 of his bouts either by pin or technical fall. He reached the title bout by tech-falling Sharon’s Sully Allen in 3:34 of Friday’s semifinal, and followed suit against Schultheis on the way to state gold at the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler award.
It capped a winter that saw Vulakh win such prestigious regular-season tournaments as Beast of the East, Powerade-Canon MacMillan and Escape the Rock. And even when he was extended the distance in some bouts, it made him no never-mind.
“Against tough guys, the matches were still fun,” he said.
Scoring lots of points on an opponent is Vulakh’s MO. It was more of the same in the state final, Vulakh catch-and-releasing Schultheis (35-5) on the way to a 10-4 lead after one period.
The lead went to 14-4 heading into the third. Vulakh escaped from a bottom start and added five more points against a release of Schultheis, building a 20-5 lead to put the tech-fall in the books.
“Honestly, it was more about him keeping his mindset right,” Hontz noted. “His confidence built on that. I don’t think he was nervous at all.”
A nationally-ranked grappler, Vulakh thrived under the tutelage of Hontz, who coached four other state champions during his storied tenure heading the Upper Perkiomen mat program. He was a third-place state medalist at 145 his junior year, that after placing eighth at 132 in a freshman season at North Penn.
This stellar season, in Vulakh’s mind, validated the decision to transfer to PJP … even while it cost him his sophomore year due to eligibility issues.
“To me, it was well worth it,” he said. “A lot of people might not think that, though.”
Matt Vulakh (27-12) was looking for an upgrade to last year’s eight-place in the state tournament’s Class AAA bracket. But that hope was untracked by Brandywine Heights’ Noah Frack, who scored a 5-0 decision in the seventh-place bout.
Frack scored a first-period takedown, then escaped from third-period bottom start and got another takedown. It was a rematch of last week’s South East AA Regional tournament, when Frack took a 4-0 decision from the Golden Panther sophomore in the quarterfinal round.
“I wanted to improve a little this year, so that was disappointing,” Matt said. “I’m hoping next year I can improve.”
High points for Matt this winter were placing in such regular-season tournaments as Beast of the East (fifth), Powerade-Canon McMillan (seventh) and Escape the Rock (eighth). He was also a District 1/12-AA champion, fourth at the Southeast AA Regional, and this weekend dethroned defending champion Gary Steen in the second round, 5-2.
“Placing at tournaments like Beast of the East … I wasn’t able to do that last year,” he said. “And getting here to win another state medal.”
NOTES >> Ryan finished up his tournament with another honor: Outstanding Wrestler in Class AA. Now comes the challenge of finding a place of honor to display the trophy. “I’ll probably put it on a shelf somewhere,” he said jokingly. … Matt on not being with Ryan for the remainder of his high-school career: “It will be different. We’ve been together for years, but now he’s going off to college.” … Ryan on the same subject: “It will be a whole different ballpark. We had fun being together.” … The Vulakhs’ medal finishes were key to PJP placing 15th in the AA team standings with 39 points. … Southern Columbia was the AA team champion with 121 points. … Hunter Tremain, a senior 195-pounder from North Star, got the tournament prize for most falls in least amount of time. Tremain, the fourth-place finisher at 195, scored three pins in a combined time of 3;45.
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