After three grueling days of competition in Hershey, the chief takeaway from the PIAA Wrestling Championships must be the upward trajectory of wrestlers in the Mercury coverage area.
Eight local medalists is the highest total since 2015 when Boyertown, led by state champion Jordan Wood, placed five on the podium.
Having two wrestlers in the state finals, like Daniel Boone’s Tucker Hogan and Owen J. Roberts’ Dillon Bechtold were Saturday night, should be recognized as uncommon even though it has occurred three times in the previous decade (Spring-Ford’s Joey Milano and Jack McGill in 2021; Owen J. Roberts’ Dan Mancini and Pope John Paul II’s Ryan Vulakh in 2019; Boyertown’s Jordan Wood and Pottsgrove’s Pat Finn in 2014).
Plus, the eight medalist total does not include a Faith Christian Academy trio that has helped take the PIAA 2A Championships by storm. Class 2A Outstanding Wrestler recipient Adam Waters, only the second freshman OW in PIAA history, is a Stowe native, sophomore bronze medalist Chase Hontz is from Royersford and Kole Davidheiser, fifth at 107, has Boyertown roots.
What could make all that success better? The fact that all but one will return next season chasing similar glory.
The one departing is Perkiomen Valley’s Gavin Pascoe, who emerged as the lone local senior to medal when he placed seventh at 160 pounds, the sole survivor of a tournament that was unkind to the area’s Class of 2023.
A year after having his junior campaign derailed by a long-term knee injury suffered in mid-January, Pascoe (42-10) achieved his first PIAA medal with flair. After losing his quarterfinal Friday, he rebounded in the blood round for a 7-2 decision of Gettysburg’s Jaxon Townsend to secure a spot on the podium. He settled for the seventh-place match but capped his high school career with his arm raised courtesy a 5-3 overtime win over Manheim Central’s Brett Barbush.
“It was awesome,” Pascoe said. “(Friday), winning in the blood round in dramatic fashion with a headlock, it was awesome. Overtime matches too, it was awesome to finish off my high school career with a bang.
“I clutched up on those moments. I had a chip on my shoulder because last year I got hurt. Having to put everything on the line, I really wanted it this year.”
Twin brother Carson Pascoe was one of the casualties of the rigors of the state tournament, the 172-pound entrant going out Thursday night after dropping a pair of matches to close his season 44-7.
Setting aside his own disappointment, there was happiness to be found for Carson Pascoe helping to prepare and watching his brother achieve the dream.
“When I first got out Thursday I was sad, but I’m immediately watching him and seeing him win his blood round match. Seeing the emotion on his face, I was in tears,” said Carson Pascoe. “We’re brothers, we’re with each other everyday, eat, sleep, train, in the gym, we go at it in the room. I’ve been with him every step of the way, warming him up. To see him get that final win, I know all the adversity he went through with his knee injury, it brings me so much joy.”
The medal round served as a slight role reversal from the fall when Gavin was in the stands for football games cheering on Carson, who was an All-State linebacker and Mercury All-Area Player of the Year for the Pioneer Athletic Conference champion Vikings. Gavin Pascoe opted out of the football season in the interest of the health of his knee and the desire to be 100 percent ready for wrestling season, a decision that paid off Saturday.
The Pascoes were one of four sets of brothers from the PAC to qualify for the state tournament: Owen J. Roberts’ Dillon and Dean Bechtold, Perkiomen Valley’s Pascoes and Grant and Carter Euker, and Spring-Ford’s Gus and Quinn Smith, the latter closing his high school career 122-31, the second-highest career wins total of any current District 1 wrestler.
The state wrestling championships provide the ultimate in competition in Pennsylvania, and the ultimate in range of emotions when dreams and nightmares occur multiple times over every six minutes.
The close connections of teammates and siblings add an additional layer to the emotional range that wrestlers must navigate at states.
“It’s tough. There’s a lot of ups and downs for a lot of people,” said OJR’s Dillon Bechtold. “My best friend Sam (Gautreau) was here and took fourth and having Dean wrestle right before me pretty much every match, it’s great and I love watching him wrestle but at the same time most times I was having to warm up in the back because I can’t watch him wrestle. It gets me more nervous than for my own matches.
“I haven’t really even seen most of his matches from this week. I’m going to have to watch them when I get home.”
The tournament’s three-day duration also makes it a vastly different experience if you’re on the golden trail, like Bechtold, or trying to work your way back through consolations.
“It’s pretty much set up for the winners where you have one match a day,” said Bechtold. “It’s nice to be able to relax and get fired up for one match. But at the same time because the tournament is so spread out it is tricky. You have to keep warming up over and over again. And every time your body hurts a little bit more.”
Bechtold became a two-time medalist Saturday and joined elite company by reaching the finals despite his loss to two-time state champion Sonny Sasso of Nazareth in the 215-pound final, capping a 46-3 season. Now, he has sights set on leaving nothing to doubt next year.
“Next year I want to be able to run my way through this whole tournament,” said Bechtold.
There are more ups and downs for others who have to navigate the road through consolations.
Daniel Boone junior Dean Houser became a two-time medalist when he placed fifth at 121 pounds Saturday, racking up a 40-8 season and 92 career wins. He took one step up on the podium from 2022 with a forfeit win in the fifth-place match, but the proof of the South Central regional champion’s growth was within.
“I improved my mental strength since last year,” he said. “Last year, I would shut down in every one of my big matches. This year I’ve taken some top kids down so that’s definitely helped.”
Houser worked his way into the semifinals, but fell to eventual runner-up Mason Ziegler of Quakertown, a training partner at Pa. legend Chance Marsteller’s Steller Training running out of Alvernia University, which required quick recovery mentally and physically.
“It’s a lot to take in. You get out on the mat and sometimes you have a good match because you just shut everything out and you shove everything aside, and other times you have all this stuff going on and you shut down,” said Houser.
“It’s hard to recover from a loss here. That’s the toughest thing about the tournament.”
For a fortunate few, they don’t have to.
“I haven’t really thought about (going undefeated) until now because anything can happen at any time with matches coming up,” said Tucker Hogan, Boone’s first state champion. “As it sinks in, it’s pretty cool not losing. It’s the work I’ve put in and I knew that no matter who I wrestled I was ready.”
Austin Hertzog is the Sports Editor of PA Prep Live and The Mercury. Reach him at email@example.com
Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page