Upper Perkiomen’s Steffenino builds on fabulous foundation

HERSHEY — The foundation laid before Dustin Steffenino was second-to-none.

A pair of older, accomplished brothers. A head coach who has invested in him beyond his high school years and a pair of assistant coaches who once stood atop the podium at Hershey.

Yet in sports, especially wrestling, a foundation is only a ground floor.

Pedigree and potential are just a bunch of ‘ p’ words. They don’t build a thing.

Putting in the work and besting the opponents in front of you is what builds new floors.

Steffenino spent the past three days building steps (up the podium) and putting the final touches on his high school wrestling career with a third-place medal at 113 pounds by downing last year’s silver medalist at 113, Northampton’s Dan Moran, 6-5, on the final day of the PIAA Class AAA Wrestling Championships at Giant Center in Hershey.

Though he medaled as a junior by placing eighth at 113, going up as many floors as possible on the medal podium was a priority.

Twin brothers Dylan and Dante, who are two years older than Dustin, were accomplished wrestlers in their own right, each surpassing the 100-win mark (Dante 104 wins, Dylan 113 wins) during their time at Upper Perk. But neither became a PIAA medalist.

Little brother’s performance through the entire state tournament wasn’t just for him.

“They pushed me harder, pushed me to do my best,’ Dustin Steffenino said. “To get this medal … I did it for both me and them. They weren’t able to get a medal but they always pushed me to be my best. They practiced with me, did everything with me.

“The medal is really for all three of us.’

It didn’t hurt to wrestle under a coaching staff with the pedigree of Upper Perkiomen’s.

“Two state champs and another state qualifier — you can’t get better than that. They push me in practice every day,’ Steffenino said.

Head coach Sam Walters, who was a state qualifier and a part of the Indians’ 2006 PIAA Class AAA Duals championship team, is joined by former PIAA champions Brent Fiorito (2006) and Chris Sheetz (2005).

“Honestly, it’s like we’re back in high school again,’ Walters said. “We’re a bunch of goofballs, but we work well together and the kids seem to respond to it. Most of the kids are coachable, (Dustin) probably being the most.’

That being the case, Steffenino had as good of a warmup partner as one could ask for in Sheetz, 10 years after he was the champion at 119, which Walters felt gave his senior lightweight a boost of confidence.

“I’ve been here before and we just wanted him to get in as good a warmup as possible,’ Sheetz said. “Going into that quarters match I knew he was going to win it. I knew he was going to get to the semis because I felt it in our warmup that he had it. He was on.’

Steffenino took care of Warwick’s Devin Schnupp, 7-1, in the quarters before running into eventual runner-up Gage Curry of North Hills, falling 5-3 in the semifinals.

That was the end of the losing for Steffenino, who capped his scholastic career at 125-29, including a 39-2 record this season.

He pinned Exeter’s Austin DeSanto in 0:40 in the consolation semifinals and went toe-to-toe with Moran, a late reversal providing the difference in a 6-5 victory to cap his scholastic career in winning fashion.

“It feels great. It’s a little disappointing coming up short in the semifinals, but still, coming in third at the state tournament is something to be very proud of. I’m just appreciative of being able to wrestling in this tournament,’ he said.

“I would be very disappointed if I would have lost my last high school wrestling match. To go out with the win was one of the best things that could happen. Once the match was over I really took it in, ‘ Wow, that was my last high school match ever.”

He plans to continue wrestling in college but is undecided where that will be.

But while he was here, in his final PIAA tournament, he wasn’t about to let a semifinal setback ruin a great tournament.

“Last year he was happy to be out here, he got eighth. This year, his mental state went through the roof and every day he would shake our hands and say, ‘I’m going to win it,” Sheetz said.

“To lose a heartbreaker in the semis like that and bounce back like he did is very, very impressive,” Walters said.

That was a pivotal moment in Steffenino’s eyes, too.

“I got bummed out, but what would this be if I just back down right now,’ he said. “I have to build up, dig deep and come out with third place to show how strong I am.”

In the process, Steffenino made his wrestling family and a few highly-successful coaches proud.

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