Good, but not great, state tourney should spark locals from CM

by Nate Heckenberger, Daily Local

Posted on March 8, 2020

Article originally appeared here:

Maybe it's a product of the recent success the Ches-Mont League has had on the mats, but this year's PIAA tournament felt a little underwhelming, at least locally.

Sure, the Ches-Mont placed a record-total six medalists. The highest to climb the podium were from Delco, with Hunter Catka (285 pounds) winning his second state title and Ryan Catka (195) taking third for Sun Valley.

Locally, a quartet survived the meat grinder that is the Pennsylvania state wrestling tournament, but there could have been more.

First, let's start with the good. Downingtown West's Chase Mielnik (fourth at 220), Max Hale (fifth, 182), Coatesville's Nate Lucier (sixth, 120) and West Chester Henderson's Sammy McMonagle (seventh, 126) accomplished something that 12 other wrestlers in each of their brackets would've loved to have done.

Winning a medal in this state is a feat that should be revered, and as time goes by, the hindsight of such achievements tends to dissolve any feelings of discontent with one's spot on the podium.

It wasn't long ago when it felt like a heroic, underdog triumph when an area wrestler reached the state semifinals, let alone contended for a title.

Heck, my first year of covering wrestling in 2006, no one from the Ches-Mont placed, and a year later, Downingtown West's Pat May was Wrestler of the Year after taking eighth.

Times have changed, and the Ches-Mont has produced four state champions - Coatesville's Mike Boykin (220), West's Doug Zapf (106) and Catka (twice) - since 2014, with another pair of runner-ups.

The league's 16 medals the past three seasons are as much as it had in the seven years prior.

The flip side of that, is now the bar has been raised, and it was never higher than when seven from the Ches-Mont won Southeast Regional titles, and two finished second, a little over a week ago.

There were chances to really capitalize, this weekend, and outside of Church Farm's Emmanuel Lawal, who reached the Class 2A state finals at 285 pounds after placing third at regionals, many of the 15-man contingent left thinking, "what if?"

The difference between those who do or don't place at states is razor thin sometimes.

What if Downingtown East's Keanu Manuel (106) was the one who came up with the takedown in sudden victory against Greater Latrobe's Vinnie Kilkeary, who went to win the state title.

What if Henderson's Killian Delaney (120) could've found the offense to get past Carlisle's Rafael Portilla in overtime of his blood round bout?

What if Kennett's Trent Kochersperger (132) could've finished one of his numerous shots against Red Land's very defensive Bryce Brennan in the first round?

What ifs don't do anyone much good when dwelled upon, but they can ignite motivation for the future. That's my hope for those who were disappointed with this year's tournament, that this experience is a setup for the redemptive part of the story they tell, one day.

I'd be lying if I told you I don't feel for the kids who don't win, having seen them work so hard, cut so much weight, sacrifice so much during the season.

Eight medals graduate with this senior class, ten if you count former Unionville wrestler, Tyler Mousaw.

The flame on the torch swells more now because of these seniors, and those returning next year should have ample fuel in the motivational tanks to keep it blazing.

For Manuel and teammates Ryan Loraw (113) and Matt Romanelli (170) and Oxford's Cannon Hershey (106), Downingtown West's Dom Findora (113), Lucier, West Chester Rustin's Jimmy King (120) and Alex Pratzner (145), McMonagle and Kochersperger, this trip to Hershey does not have to define their careers.

As brutal as this sport can be, an occasional devourer of dreams, the prospect of overcoming has to outweigh the notion of relenting.

Twelve, fifteen years ago, if a Ches-Mont wrestler whiffed on a goal, nobody blinked. That was the norm. The stakes have been raised in Chester County, and that's a good thing.

It's good that it hurts. It should.

Eat a burger. Scratch that, eat a few burgers.

Get back on the horse and get better. Because as bad it may have felt whenever one's season ended, it'll feel that much more rewarding when it all pays off.

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