PIAA Championships reaffirm Boyertown, PAC-10’s strength

It was a starkly poignant scene to behold.

Moments after the conclusion of the PIAA Wrestling Championships Saturday — with the last bout wrestled, the last medal presented, the last wrestler leaving the floor after congratulating and being congratulated — the maintenance crew at Hershey’s Giant Center got to work transforming the facility from one sport to another. Mats were rolled up, bagged and carted off the playing surface; the foam underlayment was picked up and stored away, exposing the skating surface; plexiglass shields were installed along the rink’s wall for the Hershey Bears’ next ice hockey game; and the seating area was policed for leftover drink cups and food wrappers.

Nothing could signal the end of another high-school wrestling season in Pennsylvania more profoundly than that process. Three months after it started, the 2014-15 campaign was in the record books: Its senior grapplers moving on to graduation and possible continuation of their scholastic careers at the collegiate level, the underclassmen looking back on what they accomplished and steeling their determination to make the next season even more memorable.

Now, a look back at some of the stories involving the more than 20 wrestlers from Pioneer Athletic Conference schools who spent three days at the highest level of the sport in the state.

* * *

The identity was formulated little more than a year ago.

The T-shirts trumpeting the idea … well, they were a more recent innovation.

Boyertown wrestling’s original “Fab Five’ were members of the program who qualified for the 2014 state tournament. It was a blend of solid seniors (Eddie Kriczky, Jordan Wertz) and precocious underclassmen (Jakob Campbell, Gregg Harvey, Jordan Wood) who made it to that lofty stage for a program that had swept team championships at the PAC-10, District 1-AAA West and Southeast AAA Regional tournaments.

Wood and Wertz ended up the lone Bears to reach the medal stand, Wood second at 220 and Wertz seventh at 195. The other three bowed out in the second round of consolations; but for Harvey and Campbell, the exposure to the Giant Center atmosphere was a valuable matriculation process.

“We got out here early to get acclimated,’ head coach Pete Ventresca said following the first rounds of AAA action Thursday. “It paid off.’

This year’s “Fab Five’ consisted of Wood, Harvey and Campbell joined by first-time qualifiers Lucas Miller and Tommy Killoran. They and a goodly number of Boyertown fans trumpeted the concept with T-shirts whose front sported a Hershey bar with “Boyertown’ in place of the trademark name, and the names of the five wrestlers on the back.

“We did it to show our support,’ Wood recalled. “We had them made soon as the regional was over,’

The “Five’ lived up to the hype on the mats, where they all scored medals in an uncommon display of consistency. Wood struck gold at 220, Campbell (106) got bronze and Miller (132) fifth, and Harvey (182) and Killoran (285) secured sixths.

In doing so, they allayed their coaches’ fears over the potential danger of getting too caught up in the Giant Center atmosphere to focus on the job at hand.

“We didn’t want them to come in here and get awestruck,’ Ventresca said. “Tommy and Lucas had not been here (individual tournament) before.’

It’s believed Boyertown’s 5-of-5 performance at states tied a District 1 record for most medalists by a team.

“We knew coming in here every one of our kids had the capability to place,’ Ventresca said. “Did we think every kid would place? That’s hard to say.

“This tournament is so tough, there’s so many tough kids in Pennsylvania, it can come down to whoever shows up that day. Our kids, they showed up every day and wrestled to their potential.’

And it ended up a case of “five’ equalling “four.’ The quintet’s individual performances resulted in a fourth-place team finish for the Bears, their 75 points just one short of third-place Greater Latrobe. Franklin Regional (152) and Bethlehem Catholic (106) were 1-2 in the final tally.

* * *

He savored the fruits of his championship finish, basking in the attention of teammates and coaches, family, classmates and the print media.

But for a good part of the recently-completed 2014-15 season, there were questions about whether Jordan Wood would even get out on the mats this winter, let alone reaching the top step of the state’s medal podium.

Wood found himself on the sidelines for much of the first two months, recovering from off-season surgery to repair an injury to his left shoulder. As each match went by with him not in the mix, questions about his return followed the Boyertown junior, his coaches and family, and even teammates.

“I was very concerned at the beginning,’ head coach Pete Ventresca said. “His rehab was taking time.’

But the wait, and its accompanying anxiety, ended at the end of January.

Wood stepped out on the mats for the District 1 Class AAA Duals tournament, wrestling for two victories and accepting a forfeit in another to help Boyertown repeat as team champion. That was followed by state duals, the PAC-10, District 1-West and Southeast Regional tourneys … and Hershey, with a finish that evoked cheers for Wood from not just the Boyertown fan base, but spectators from throughout the state.

“I wasn’t in the same shape as I was last year, and not as trained,’ he recalled, “but I was a lot hungrier. I missed the whole season, and I was itching to come back. And I came back hard.’

Ventresca, who coached Wood through his two previous silver-medal finishes, never doubted Wood’s success in dealing with the situation.

“It took time for Jordan to get healthy,’ he said. “But he’s a hard worker, both in school and in his rehab. No surprise there.’

* * *

Soon after they won their respective quarterfinal-round bouts Friday, Boyertown’s Lucas Miller and Tommy Killoran were located unwinding at the very top of the fan seats at the Giant Center’s eastern end.

Asked why they chose such a lofty perch, their response:

“It’s the only place where you can see all six mats at the same time.’

* * *

Jordan Wood had a ready answer for the way he was going to celebrate his state championship.

“We’re going to Applebee’s,’ he said with a grin following Saturday’s Class AAA medal finals.

And when asked his plans for the off-season, Wood replied:

“I’m going take off a week, then go back to work.’

“Work’ for Wood is participation in various national-level tournaments. He did that during the last off-season, competing in such events as the ASICS University and FILA Cadet Nationals. He won gold in the 85-100 KG Freestyle competition, and was second in the same weight bracket in the FILA Cadet Greco-Roman portion. Wood later competed in the FILA Cadet World Championships in mid-July at Suina, Slovakia, claiming silver in the FILA Cadet freestyle 100 KG competition.

* * *

He may be third in line of the family’s lineage, but Dustin Steffenino is first among them in the Upper Perkiomen wrestling program’s record books.

Two years behind Dylan and Dante — both graduating in 2013 — Dustin holds several distinctions over them. His 122 career victories, putting him near the Top 50 on the Mercury coverage area’s all-time career chart, surpass Dylan’s 133 and Dante’s 104 … and one under head coach Sam Walters. A third-place medal in the 113-pound weight class at states — his second medal in two visits to Hershey — outpaces the post-seasons of his older brothers: Dylan twice qualified for states but missed medal finishes, and Dante got only as far as regionals twice.

So does Dustin plan to talk up his scholastic success in wrestling’s version of “sibling rivalry?’

“I’ll probably brag about this one,’ he said with a grin after claiming his bronze prize. “I’m just living the moment for now.’

* * *

Basking in the joy of their medal finishes at the PIAA State Championships, several of the area’s senior wrestling stars weren’t fully contemplating their futures in the sport.

But some are looking to the college level, and they have ideas on which direction they’ll go.

OJR’s Derek Gulotta mentioned Lock Haven University as a next stop. Teammate Demetri D’Orsaneo expressed hopes to land at Lehigh University, but he’s waiting to see if other schools come calling.

Spring-Ford’s Frankie Krauss is looking at schools within all the NCAA divisions. And Pope John Paul II’s Michael Collins is checking out the University of Scranton’s Division III mat program.

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