Dambro, Marino both end up in sixth place at Hershey

HERSHEY — The greatest wrestling season in Garnet Valley’s history culminated Saturday night at the Giant Center, when All-Delcos Michael Marino and John Dambro bowed their bleached-blond heads to accept their sixth-place medals.

Marino became the Jaguars’ first two-time state medalist and Dambro’s breakthrough return to the PIAA Class AAA mats gave Garnet Valley another first — two state medals in the same year.

“This was, without a doubt, the best season we ever had,” Dambro said. “I definitely exceeded my expectations and we all had fun, did well and had a really close-knit team.”

Just how close was readily evident in their shocking hairdos — Dambro’s brainchild — which enabled the senior teammates/best friends to stand out in the crowded and chaotic arena, which hosted 840 bouts and crowned 28 champions in two classifications over three days.

“My goal was to improve on last year’s sixth-place finish here, but I went from last week (at the Southeast Regional) potentially a point away from not even getting here to medaling again,” Marino said. “So I’m pretty pleased.”

Garnet Valley coach Rocco Fantazzi was quick to spread credit for the program’s brilliant run, listing assistant coaches Keith Layman and John Conte among the many who helped bring out the best in the Jaguars.

On the list of accomplishments by the Jags were their Central League season and tournament team titles and a third-place finish at the Class AAA District One-West tourney. By finishing fourth at the District One Duals, Garnet Valley also became the first team from Delaware County to qualify for the state duals.

“Coming into the year, I thought it could be one of our greatest seasons ever or we could fall flat on our faces,” Fantazzi said. “It’s great to have both Michael and Johnny medal. I’m proud of them. Michael definitely deserves this for himself and what he’s done for the program, and he showed what he’s capable of when he doesn’t hold back and just lets it fly.

“Johnny proved that if you come up here and get a taste of this level of competition, even if you don’t medal your first time, you understand what it takes to get back here.”

Even on the final day the workload is grueling. Both Marino and Dambro had to battle their way through two rounds of consolations that began at 9 a.m.

Marino closed out his stellar career as the winningest wrestler in program history with a 147-33 record, ending with a 7-2 loss to Jake Gromacki of Erie Cathedral Prep in the 120-pound fifth-place match.

Dambro brought down the curtain on his 114-39 run as a Jaguar in a 3-2 loss to Garden Spot’s Ben Swarr for fifth at 170.

Earlier in the day, Marino grabbed a 3-0 lead late in the second period and went on to blank Belle Vernon Area senior Brendan Hasson, 4-0, in a third-round consolation. Later in the morning, Marino took on the nation’s sixth-ranked 120-pounder and acquitted himself quite well by battling Ethan Lizak in a fourth-round consolation that the Parkland senior barely held on to win, 3-2.

As part of his preparation, Marino studied his freshman brother Matt’s technical fall loss to Lizak in the Class AAA duals early last month.

“Going into the match, everyone kept telling me (Lizak is) really, really good on top,” Marino said. “I felt confident, I think I just needed to be a little more offensive and get after it more.”

Even though a takedown staked Marino to a 2-0 lead 13 seconds into the second period, Lizak was able pull even and then the two-time state champion went ahead before spending the last period clearly content to back out of the circle to preserve his lead.

“I was hoping to maybe pull off two stalling calls (in the third period), but you can’t really rely on that to win matches,’ Marino said.

Dambro’s day began with third-round consolation against Connor Martinez, a senior out of Dallas. Both wrestlers began very tentatively, and the bout was scoreless heading to the third period.

But almost as the final two minutes appeared on the clock, a switch appeared to go off for Dambro as he surged ahead with a two-pointer 30 seconds into period and extended the lead to 5-0. Martinez managed an escape with :21 left to make the final score 5-1.

The fourth-round consolation was more evenly matched, with Dambro overcoming a bloodied nose to take Chartiers Valley senior Noah Wilps scoreless to overtime. But just nine seconds into the extra period, Wilps recorded a takedown for the 2-0 win.

“I was pretty upset, mainly because I had only lost one overtime match my entire career,” Dambro said.

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