HERSHEY — Hunter Catka added three more remarkable chapters to his Delaware County wrestling story Saturday night.
The Sun Valley senior recorded an 11-4 victory over Hempfield’s Isaiah Vance at 285 pounds in the Class 3A championship bout to become the first Delco guy to win two PIAA wrestling titles, the second to win a title with an unbeaten season and the first to secure three medals in states competition.
“It’s really cool,” Catka said. “It’s definitely an accomplishment, for sure. I’m proud of myself, proud of the work I put in but there’s still more to do. I’m excited. And I’m proud of my brother. That was an exciting match.”
Catka’s brother Ryan, in his first trip to states, rallied from a one-point deficit to stun Jake Lucas, 4-2, in the rideouts and claim third place.
With his back to the wall, Ryan Catka escaped to knot the match and with one second remaining, somersaulted into the winning takedown.
“I felt like he was getting gassed so I just kept going after him,” Ryan Catka said. “I wanted it. I wanted it more.”
Catka called the somersault move his “Master Grammy.” He parlayed the same move into the points that catapulted him into the consolation final.
Considering the one-sidedness of all but one of Hunter Catka’s matches, a testament to his dominance, you couldn’t help but wonder why he wasn’t named the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler. Pound-for-pound, there’s not a wrestler in the PIAA that matches up to Catka.
Instead, that subjective top wrestling honor went to Lenny Pinto of Stroudsburg, who won the 170-pound title. The criteria along press row was that six wrestlers in the class are nationally ranked compared to Catka and Vance.
Catka, the state title winner at 220 pounds in 2018, suspected he’d have to do something really bold to get most outstanding wrestler at states.
“I’d need to just get all pins in the tournament,” he said.
Catka won by fall in 1:08 in the first round of the tournament, by a 16-5 major decision in the quarterfinals and by technical foul in 5:30 (22-7) in the semifinals.
The only other Delco wrestler to go undefeated and win a title was Brian Kennerly of Upper Darby. Kennerly went 38-0 in 2016-17.
Ryan Catka’s third-place finish gives the Catkas four of Sun Valley’s five state medals, tied for fifth in total medals among county schools.
The younger Catka made a huge statement of his own. His only loss was to senior Luke Stout, now a two-time state champion. With Stout a senior, Catka already is the 195-pounder to beat next year in Hershey.
Catka’s resilience after getting pinned by Stout with 14 seconds left in the championship semifinal was on display in his next match. He saw a tight lead slip away twice in his consolation semifinal with Jason Henderson of Delaware Valley, who went ahead 5-4 with a takedown late in the bout. The crowd roared.
“I was trying to stay solid in my stance,” Catka said. “He got a two-legged attack and I didn’t get my hands down. That’s something I’ve got to work on – being stout. I’ve got to get my hands down. He got that takedown and I knew I had to get out. So, I Grammy rolled. I got on top of him and I just tried to stay right there.”
The crowd reaction to the roll, which for the non-wrestling world basically is a somersault, was off the charts loud. Catka vaulted out of the takedown and in a matter of seconds, his arm was being raised for a 7-5 decision against a strong, worthy foe.
“I had to create something in order to move on,” Catka said. “And I saw the opportunity to hit a good Grammy roll.”
In the semis, Stout gave Catka his toughest match of the season. Catka trailed, 9-1, when Stout got the pin.
“He’s an all-around good guy,” Catka said. “I don’t know him personally but just the way he warms up, he’s a top-level guy. Real solid.”
Solid is a moniker you also could attach to Hunter Catka. While he’s outwardly unconcerned about his legacy and realizes he can’t do much about outside opinions, it had to be strange for him to look up at the scoreboard before his championship match.
On the big board at the Giant Center were the only PIAA wrestlers to beat Catka over the last three years – Dorian Crosby and Nate Schon. They wrestled for the title at 220 pounds Saturday night. Crosby won.
Catka crushed both in the rematches at states a year ago, taking Schon out 8-3 on the way to gold in 2018 and humbling Crosby, 9-0, in the third-place bout last year. Catka was a bit conflicted about moving up to 285.
“I mean, part of him wishes he went down to 220 just to whip all of their butts,” Ryan Catka said. “Just because I think they’re cocky and they’re prideful. And I think Hunter would just take them out like – he beat Crosby, what was it, 9-0? Hunter is just an insane wrestler. I think he’s going to do great in college. And I think he can whip anyone in this gym.”
Hunter Catka certainly proved it.
Among other spectators Saturday night was Coltin Deery, who last year finished eighth at states wrestling for Garnet Valley. Now at Malvern, Deery recalled beating Catka the first time they met.
“It was in like, sixth grade,” Deery said. “We wrestled at the ICWL tournament. The Inter-County Wrestling League. I was much more experienced than Hunter. Two years later he was really, really into the sport. We’ve been best friends since. Just to see how he’s grown as a wrestler, as a person and a man is great.”
Catka is headed to Virginia Tech on a scholarship. There’s a lot of wrestling to be done before then, starting next weekend.
The elder Catka completes his Sun Valley career with a 134-9 record.
The school record book, of course, is forever changed.
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