Pennsbury suffered its biggest blows in the offseason

FAIRLESS HILLS – To say that Pennsbury’s numbers are down this year would be an understatement.

In reality, these Falcons are a mere shell of the squad that took the mat last season, one that tied Neshaminy for second place in the Suburban One National League championships, finished fifth in districts and sent 10 grapplers on to the D-1 AAA tournament.

No sir. This Pennsbury team has been decimated and not just by graduation.

In addition to the loss of alums Eric Mongiello (138 lbs.), Luke Kowal (160) and Mason Houriet – all, regional qualifiers last season, the Falcons suffered an unexpected loss when juniors Andrew Roccograndi (113) and Connor Romano (132) along with senior Kenny Hickman (182) decided not to come out for wrestling this season.

What’s more, senior Alex Cwenar (170), a league runner-up who registered 26 wins last season, could not get medical clearance to return to the mat after sustaining a neck injury last spring.

“We’re down eight starters from last year so we’re hurting,” admitted Pennsbury head coach Phil Kealy.

“The kids that are stepping up are doing just that; they’re going to take their shot.”

“But we definitely have some growing to do.”

Of the three mat-men that decided not to return, the loss of Hickman has to hurt the most. A two-time district qualifier, Hickman is coming off a 25-10 campaign. Coming on the heels of a 10-24 season as a sophomore, there were some who thought Kenny was poised to make some serious noise in SOL wrestling circles and beyond.

“When you look at the team before the season and all the possibilities, I’m thinking we’re going to be competitive again this year.

“Even though I was pretty sure Alex wasn’t coming back early on, even then, I thought we could compete.

“And then those guys just dropped out.”

The good news is that sophomore Antonio Martoccio – the Falcons’ only state qualifier in 2015 – has returned after a pretty remarkable campaign last season.

“Being a freshman and unsure of how the big leagues work, he handled himself really well last year and he learned a lot,” said Kealy, of Martoccio.

“Going into this year, I think he’s going to be even better prepared for the competition that’s coming his way.”

Senior Connor Joyce has also returned for his final campaign in a Pennsbury uniform. A regional qualifier last season, Joyce is coming off a 33-8 season and a bronze medal finish at districts.

Joyce captured both league and District 1 trophies as a sophomore and has 76 varsity wins thus far. A wrestler who works the mats all year long, another season like last could put the 126-pounder over the century mark for his career.

As a sophomore, Joyce finished fourth at regionals and made states. He’ll have to do at least that if he is to return to Hershey. As always, Connor is aiming high.

“I’m hoping for section, district, region champs – all the way to states.”

Seniors Zack Clarke (152) and Spencer Hickman (160) have also returned to the lineup and Clarke could be poised for a breakout season after going 22-10 and capturing his third straight District 1 qualifying bid.

After that, the Falcons have very little experience – if any at all.

Juniors Nate Smith (132), Justin Braim (145), Scott Diethorne (220) and Jake Haenle (285) along with sophomore Mark Hertkorn (120) return with some varsity experience, though each was below .500 in the won-loss column last season.

Sophomore Anthony Visco (106) was 5-5 last year on the JV squad, junior Connor Gowton went 15-3 on the JV mat, and freshman Patrick Chapell went 8-2 in middle school last year.

The group will get its feet wet Saturday, Dec. 5 at the Saucon Valley Invitational before competing as a team in the Ghost Town Duals Dec. 12 at Abington. Coach says Saucon Valley is a good place to start.

“It’s a real nice mix – there are some really decent teams and some not so good teams,” stated Kealy.“So the kids will have a chance to win some matches and also take a loss or two.”

“They’ll get in there and bang some heads – see where they stand.”

Needless to say, Pennsbury’s overall numbers are down. Whereas there are currently just 38 varsity and JV wrestlers working the room, there were 45 this time last year.

“We got to get the younger guys – all these guys that are filling those holes – we have to get them going fast,” said Kealy. “And we have to figure out how so it’s going to be a learning experience … for all of us.”

It’s safe to say however, that the Falcons are going to take their lumps between now and Feb. 20 – the date of this season’s SOL National Championships.

Pennsbury opens its league season Wednesday, Dec. 16 at home vs. William Tennent then travels to Council Rock North Dec. 23. The Falcons wrap up 2015 at the Ralph Wetzel Holiday Classic Dec. 29-30 at Hatboro-Horsham.

Last season, Pennsbury finished third at Saucon Valley, second at Wetzel and won all five of their dual meets at Abington. It should be interesting to see how the Falcons fare this time around.

UPDATE: Antonio Martoccio (2-0) took the top prize at 113 pounds when he pinned Paul Miller in 0:37 Dec. 5 in the Saucon Valley Wrestling Invitational while Connor Joyce (3-1) finished a true second place when he majored Chase Pavelko, of Emmaus, 13-1. Anthony Visco (4th), Ethan Norris (5th), Spencer Hickman (5th), and Connor Gowton (5th) also did well in the tournament.

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