Gulotta caps freshman year with eighth-place medal
by Don Seeley, Pottstown Mercury
Posted on March 11, 2012
HERSHEY - The Pennsylvania high school wrestling season officially ended Saturday night. Ended after 3-1/2 very long and very, very demanding months, including the four-week, down-the-stretch postseason grind.
Over at last.
But Derek Gulotta will likely be in Owen J. Roberts' weight room first thing Monday. At least that's where head coach Steve DeRafelo expects to see him again.
The 113-pound Gulotta had plenty to celebrate this winter, and closed out his own phenomenal freshman season Saturday night by finishing eighth in the 75th annual PIAA-Class AAA Championships here at the Giant Center. But eighth place, well, that just wasn't good enough for him.
And the soft-spoken Gulotta didn't even attempt to keep it a secret.
"I wanted to do better, place higher," he said. "But I did get a spot on the podium."
Gulotta was actually the only area qualifier to step up on that podium and get a medal draped around his neck, too. Of the original gang of 10 - all from the Pioneer Athletic Conference - Gulotta was the sole survivor of Thursday's preliminaries and consolations and Friday's second round of consolations.
He returned to the mats Saturday morning, but couldn't counter the strength or ride of Northampton's Zach Valley (37-8) and dropped a 3-1 decision. The loss dropped him into the seventh-eighth place final, where he was blanked 5-0 by Chambersburg's Tanner Shoap (37-9), who a week ago swept the Southcentral Regional title.
"I thought Derek had a chance to get here, but coming out as a freshman ... that can be tough," DeRafelo said. "He's been in big tournaments before. But this is a big stage, and there are a lot of kids here who are three and four years older than him. It's never easy.
"And we were a little concerned after his first match (an 8-2 loss to Northeast Regional champion Sean Bianco of Pleasant Valley). He didn't look like himself. He got things going quick, but then slowed down. But (the loss) didn't shake his confidence because Derek knew he didn't wrestle like he's capable of wrestling."
Gulotta (35-11) obviously didn't dwell on his debut because he responded with a pair of pins - which assured him of getting into the medal rounds.
That alone was a milestone achievement. No Owen J. Roberts wrestler had ever picked up a medal here as a freshman.
There was talk, even before the season began on that second weekend of December, that Gulotta had the potential to work his way to the state tournament, perhaps even medal. The expectations may have seemed a bit high after getting pinned in his very first bout by Big Spring's Greg Warner during the Bealer Memorial Bear Duals in Boyertown.
But Gulotta would lose only seven more times before the trek here.
And those seven losses? An injury default to eventual Beast of the East Classic and National Preps champion Joey McKenna of Blair (and opting for a medical forfeit in the next bout); a 1-0 loss to eventual Delaware state runner-up Tyler Carney; another one-point loss to state qualifier Mike Marino of Garnet Valley; two losses to two-time state medalist Zach Fuentes of Norristown; and two losses to Billy Rappo of Council Rock South, who cruised to his second straight state title Saturday night with a 12-0 major.
DeRafelo felt a 4-1 win over Shikellamy's Jake Witmer and then a third-period pin loss to Rappo during the Escape The Rock Tournament in mid-January may have been the turnaround for Gulotta.
"The match with the kid from Shikellmany was very physical," DeRafelo said. "He won, but he got beat up. Then in his next match with Rappo he got beat up again.
"I really think that opened Derek's eyes a bit to what being physical can do to you, how it can take you out of your game. You have to match that physicality."
For the most part, Gulotta did.
"I thought it would take a little more time than it did, but Derek got (to being more physical) pretty quick from that point on. From that point on he wrestled at a higher level. He got better, and he really matured a lot."
"I have to get stronger," Gulotta admitted Saturday. "I also have to work on my counter-offense, countering shots and scoring off them."
DeRafelo is confident he'll take his game up a notch or two by next winter.
"Derek is slick, very athletic," he explained. "He just has to get more physical.
"He wants to be good. He wants to win."
Even if it means getting right back at it first thing next week.
"I'll take a little break, but no long one," Gulotta admitted. "I want to wrestle at 120 or 126. I'm not going to get too fat or too big.
"I'll probably start running again (Monday) morning. I'll stay in shape, work on what I have to work on, and come back better next year."
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A good number of Gulotta's teammates were on hand throughout the weekend to lend support from the stands. DeRafelo noted how both were a big plus for the OJR program: "The other kids saw what Derek has done, saw that getting here and medaling is doable, is attainable. I'm sure they're saying, 'If Derek can do it why can't others do it.' He's given the rest of the team something to shoot for."
NOTES Gulotta's performance meant the Pioneer Athletic Conference has had at least one medalist for 17 straight years, or since coming up empty here in 1995. ... Gulotta will certainly have an opportunity to go after two OJR records over the next three years. The program has had just one two-time medalist - Nick Fuschino (8th and 5th in 2008-09) - which Gulotta could match next season. Also, former state medalist and current assistant coach Aaron Brown's school-record 134 career wins should be within his reach as well. ... District 1 collected 18 state medals that, combined with three more from District 12, gave the Southeast Region a total of 21. ... District 1's best showing came at 106 pounds (three qualifiers taking fourth, fifth and eighth), but it was blanked in two weight classes (126 and 152). ... All but two of the Southeast Regional champions (220 and 285) went home with medals.