Owen J. Roberts revels in first trip to Hershey since 2013

It’s been several years since Owen J. Roberts qualified for a PIAA Team Wrestling Championship.

Longer than any of the oldest of the current wrestlers on the Wildcat roster. But to prepare them for the experience — one for which they qualified this winter — head coach Steve DeRafelo has a timely tool.

“The last time we went to states,” DeRafelo explained of the 2013 season, “there was a person who was following the team. He prepared a video about the trip — it was about an hour long — and we showed it to the kids.”

Roberts has worked hard for the opportunity to mix it up with the state’s elite mat programs. OJR punched its ticket to Hershey for the action this week by finishing third in the District 1 Class AAA Team Duals last weekend, then rolling Archbishop Wood by a 46-21 count in Monday’s preliminary round.

Owen J. Roberts’ Ricky McCutchen smiles after his second-period pin of Matthew Palage at 152 Monday night during a first-round match of the PIAA Team Wrestling Championships. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Owen J. and Boyertown, the district’s second seed, will represent the Pioneer Athletic Conference in the three-day competition again being staged at the Giant Center in Hershey. The action opens Thursday evening with first-round matches, continues Friday with semifinal and two consolation rounds, then concludes Saturday with more consolation rounds setting up the championship and third-place contests at 1 p.m.

The Class AAA field also includes Exeter, District 3’s team-tournament champion. The Eagles and Boyertown will face off at 8 p.m. after a 6 p.m. round that will have OJR take on District 11 champion Nazareth.

“That’s something,” Boyertown head coach Pete Ventresca said following the 1-AAA title match won by Council Rock South, 38-24. “Going to Hershey to wrestle a team that’s 20 minutes away from us. But we’ll put our best team out there and see what happens.”

Exeter (22-1 overall) was 7-0 against Berks Conference schools in regular-season matches. Its only loss was to Council Rock South (37-30) during the Parkland Duals … South also keeping Boyertown from winning a fourth straight 1-AAA duals title.

Boyertown’s David Campbell fights to bring Council Rock South’s Mike McKinney back in bounds during a 9-4 decision at 126 pounds at last weekend’s District Duals. (Nate Heckenberger – For Digital First Media)

Exeter was champion of King of the Mountain tournament, Exeter Duals and the Berks County Interscholastic Athletic Association (BCIAA) team tourney, with a 57-18 win over Gov. Mifflin. The Eagles won the District 3-AAA Duals with 32-27 victory over Cedar Cliff.

Exeter boasts a strong senior roster headed by Austin DeSanto, a PIAA silver medalist last winter. DeSanto has been wrestling primarily at 132 this winter.

The roster also includes other state qualifiers in senior Oscar Daniels (285) and junior Denny Karas (195). Seniors Tyler Bagoly (170, 182) and Ryan Watts (113, 120) both made the Southcentral AAA Regional Tournament as juniors.

Boyertown (4-1 PAC Liberty, 20-3 overall) has a solid number of seniors and underclassmen seasoned by the state-duals experience over the past three years. Among them is Hunter Vogels, who reached the 100-win mark for his scholastic career with a 5-1 decision of South’s Robert Cooper in their 170-pound pairing.

Senior brothers Jakob and David Campbell are other Bears who’ve gone over the 100-win mark for their careers. Another classmate, Chris Berry, is just five away from joining Vogels and the Campbells as a 100-win performer.

Boyertown’s Chris Berry rides out Garnet Valley’s Nick Puliti during a 1-0 win at 152 pounds at the District Duals. (Nate Heckenberger – For Digital First Media)

Nazareth (10-1) has six wrestlers with experience at the PIAA level … three of them winning medals in 2016.

Senior Travis Stefanik (182, 195) placed third at states as a junior, and classmate Brock Wilson (152, 160) scored a silver medal. Junior Sammy Sasso placed third at states after being second his sophomore year.

Other Blue Eagles who’ve wrestled at the state’s highest level are senior Trevor Tarsi (126) and juniors Ryan O’Grady (120) and Cade Wilson (170).

Owen J. Roberts — 4-0 in the PAC Liberty, 17-2 overall prior to Wednesday’s match with neighboring rival Spring-Ford — is led by senior Ryan Resnick. A 100-win performer in his own right, Resnick built a 31-2 record through Monday’s match with AB Wood.

NOTES >> Council Rock South will open against District 7 runner-up Canon McMillan at 6 p.m. Thursday. … District 1’s other state qualifier, Downingtown West, bowed out in Monday’s preliminary round with a 40-21 loss to Central Dauphin, third seed from District 3.

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