Owen J. Roberts wrestler Daniel Mancini used last season's failure to fuel state-championship run

by Molly Shelly, Philadelphia Inquirer

Posted on April 3, 2019

Article originally appeared here:
https://www.philly.com/high-school-sports/pennsylvania/daniel-mancini-owen-j-roberts-high-school-wrestling-piaa-championships-20190402.html

There was no doubt in his mind. Ever. The main goal this season for Owen J. Roberts senior Daniel Mancini was to win a state championship in wrestling.

After all, it wasn't as if the 18-year-old Pottstown native was new to the tournament. Mancini placed fourth in the PIAA Class 3A state competition last season at 152 pounds. Mancini used a 5-4 defeat to Scranton senior William Evanitsky in the quarterfinals as a focal point for improvement and a catalyst for change in his mental approach to the sport.

"Right after the tournament [last year], I realized I could have come in first. So that has been my motivation all year," Mancini said. "Training-wise, I didn't change anything. But mentally, I wasn't so hard on myself, and I came into the season confident that a championship win was possible."

With his new approach, Mancini accomplished his goal on March 9 when he won the Class 3A 152-pound state title with a 10-2 major decision over Kiski Area's Cam Connor.

"It's so rewarding," said Mancini, who is to wrestle at Virginia Tech in the fall. "The day of the tournament, I was focused and pretty confident. I just wanted to make use of all the prep work I'd done. And it's really exciting. I'm glad I could go out there and win for my coach and my program."

Mancini dominated his opponents in the state tournament on his way to the top of the podium. He won by decisions in the state semifinals over junior Cole Handlovic of Bethlehem Catholic, the quarterfinals over junior Tanner Updegraff of Hershey, and the round of 16 over senior Alex Weber of Thomas Jefferson. He had a bye in the round of 32.

On his way to the state tournament, Mancini was first in the sectional tournament and third in the region. For the season, he finished with a record of 37-3, according to Pa-Wrestling.com. He was 42-6 last season and ended his high school career with a record of 145-34.

Mancini is ranked second in District 1 at 152 pounds by Pa-Wrestling.com, behind Pope John Paul II's Ryan Vulakh. Vulakh won the Class 2A state championship.

To aid Mancini in his quest this season, Roberts coach Steve DeRafelo made sure to throw a few challenges his way.

"We do a really good job at finding Daniel difficult competition," DeRafelo said. "That's not easy to do with an athlete of his caliber. You have to work pretty hard to find kids that have the potential to beat him. But we've been able to do that."

Although Mancini is a force to be reckoned with now, his success didn't come without hard work.

"I started wrestling when I was 8 years old, and I loved it right away," Mancini said. "It didn't come naturally to me, though. As I got further along in wrestling, I've had to work hard and adjust in order to perform well."

It was Mancini's dedication to improvement that impressed DeRafelo the most.

"Daniel isn't the most naturally gifted athlete, and I think he realized that fairly young. So he's made up for that by controlling everything he can, like his diet and how hard he trains," DeRafelo said, "His attention to detail sets him apart from any athlete I've coached before. It's made a huge difference in his performance."

In addition to the success in competition he leaves behind at Roberts, Mancini will be recalled by his friends and coaches as the ultimate teammate.

"The greatest thing about Daniel is that he's set an example for our younger athletes to look up to," DeRafelo said. "He's shown these kids that they don't have to be the most gifted athlete, and if they work hard and do things like he did them, they have the chance to become a state champion. He's just a great kid."

He hasn't done it alone. Mancini's father, Pat Mancini, is the wrestler's biggest supporter.

"He'd do anything for me to grow as a wrestler," Daniel Mancini said of his father. "He's made a lot of sacrifices for me, so I'm extremely grateful for him and what he's done for me."

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