PAC wrestling championships preview; LaRocca now a leader, and part of a family, at Spring-Ford

Tyler LaRocca has found himself a home and family.

On a combined three counts, in both instances.

After an early life marked by relocations to reside with various family members, LaRocca has settled into living with a brother in Limerick. Enrollment at numerous schools — six since 8th grade — has been supplanted by his attendance at Spring-Ford High School for a second year.

And his thirst for athletic achievement is being satisfied as a member of the school’s wrestling team, where he’s evolved into a senior leader and one of the Rams’ most impressive performers in a program enjoying an equal measure of success this winter.

LaRocca went through the Rams’ regular season with a 27-6 record featuring 15 pins, primarily in the 220-pound weight class. That shows considerable improvement over his junior campaign, marked by an 18-13 record and third-place finishes in both the Pioneer Athletic Conference and District 1-AAA West individual tournaments.

“You’re only as good as your last match,” LaRocca said following a practice session in preparation for this weekend’s PAC tourney at Boyertown. “I want to be better.

“It was a roller coaster last year. I was a normal, average .500 guy. I wish I could have done more.”

Spring-Ford senior Tyler LaRocca. (Austin Hertzog – DFM)

He was able to get another year of eligibility through successful petitioning of the PIAA — a function of his constant movement from school to school.
Along with the statistical improvement is LaRocca’s assumption of a leadership role with the Rams. That’s been a function of a different approach to life.

“When I first got here,” Tyler recalled, “I was an angry kid. I didn’t trust everyone and put up an invisible wall around me … became a ‘lone wolf.’ As the season went on, I opened doors and liked people.”

“The biggest part was making him feel at home,” Spring-Ford head coach Tim Seislove said. “He’s a hard worker who always has goals. The key was to make him feel accepted and be part of something.

“He’s had a good year,” Seislove said. “The biggest thing is him being a leader in the room. The kids enjoy being around him … he’s upbeat in the room.”

Classmates like Matt Lepore and Ben D’Arcangelo were at the forefront of LaRocca’s change in demeanor.

“He was the very first person to welcome me,” Tyler recalled. “He made me feel very welcome. He made me laugh even when I didn’t want to.”

“It was the same with Ben as Matt,” he added. “He was like a brother.”

LaRocca’s involvement in wrestling goes back to his kindergarten days. For much of those early years, however, the sport took a step below football.

“I always wrestled for football,” he said. “That was my number-one sport.”

That changed, in part, the first week of the 2016 mat season.

“His brother contacted the school, asking permission to talk with the coaches,” Seislove recalled. “Tyler loves to wrestle, and he wants to be here.
Tyler’s desire to advance further in wrestling’s post-season is still there.

“You’re only as good as your last match. I want to be better,” he said.

But the team’s welfare is just as big a consideration.

“His mindset changed when he came to us. He wants to go to states, first. But now he cares more for his teammates.

“That’s a true testament to his character.”


A number of different faces will ascend to the top step of the medal podium Saturday.

Gold medals from the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s individual tournament will be placed around the necks of no fewer than 13 wrestlers from the day’s action — the first of the high-school campaign’s postseason — at Boyertown High School.

Only one of the 14 PAC grapplers who won their weight classes last winter will be in position to defend an individual title. The others from 2017 have either graduated or are out of action due to injury, making for a wide-open rush for gold this time around.

“It was very senior-oriented,” Spring-Ford head coach Tim Seislove said of the 2017 PACs. “Boyertown had its group of (four) seniors.”

The lone returning champion is Bear senior Elijah Jones, who used last year’s 182-pound title as a stepping stone to a fifth-place medal at the PIAA Class AAA tourney. Jones brings a 30-3 record into PACs as the 195-pound top seed, and a final go-round before a hometown crowd in his scholastic career.

Spring-Ford’s Lepore, the league’s 285-pound champion last winter, found his senior season come to an unexpected and premature end when he injured his leg during the Rams’ Liberty Division dual with Methacton one month ago. The injury, ironically, came against Tonee Ellis — the wrestler Lepore beat for the 2017 championship.

There is, however, no shortage of competitors in position to step up and claim gold medals. Nine of them were runners-up one year ago, and two are former PAC champions.

Spring-Ford senior Brandon Meredith (32-1), a silver medalist at 113, was the conference’s 106-pound champion two seasons ago. He went on to finish fourth at states that year, and also qualified for a trip to Hershey his junior season.
Meredith is the top seed at 120.

Owen J. Roberts’ Dan Mancini, a PAC champion at 126 two years ago, was second at 145 last winter. He’s 29-4 this season working primarily out of the 152-pound bracket, where he stands as the PAC’s top seed.

Mancini goes into the weekend’s action within reach of the 100-win mark for his scholastic career. The senior currently stands at 95 victories.
The Wildcats, who won the PAC’s 2016-17 team trophy by a one-point margin over Boyertown, have two other silver medalists in Antonio Petrucelli (25-9) and Cole Meredith (26-6). Petrucelli is a top seed at 138, and Meredith a second seed at 145.

Methacton, in its first year under head coach/mat alumnus Brad Clark, have two other 2017 runners-up alongside Ellis (22-7). Junior Corey Morabito is 19-6 at 106, and sophomore Roman Moser is 14-5 at 145, where he stands as top seed. Morabito is seeded second at 113.

Rounding out the list is Spring-Ford junior Chase Smith (20-3) and Pottsgrove senior Skylar McLeod (21-4). McLeod is the top seed at 220, and Smith is the 182-pound bracket’s second seed.

The PAC’s other top seeds are Phoenixville’s Antonio Valenteen (24-1) at 106, Upper Perkiomen’s Jared Kuhns (20-1) at 113, Pottsgrove’s Chase Banyai (20-4) at 126, Methacton’s Kibwe McNair (26-2) at 132 and Michael Blakemore (23-3) at 160, Owen J. Roberts’ Jason Zollers (27-5) at 170, Boyertown’s Jacob Miller (33-6) at 182 and Pottstown’s Tom Doyle (15-7) at 285.

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