The opponent on the other side of the mat will not be only thing local wrestlers are contending with as the 2020-2021season finally gets going.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made playing any sport a challenge but wrestling poses an even tougher task than its indoor brethren due to fact that's it hard to socially distant when you're trying for a takedown.
"Yes, it is a bit scary....I certainly don't want to get Covid, although I think I might have had it back in February at the CB South match that I had to leave after weigh-ins," North Penn coach Robert Shettsline said. "My assistants took over and completed the match. We are being extra careful and going the extra mile. Kids get their temperature taken before each practice and we follow the guidelines set forth by our district. I am happy to say so far so good!!!"
The season will look and be different that previous ones - masks in matches, spread-out benches, fewer spectators, smaller postseason fields - but with the goals of league titles and trips to the PIAA Tournament still there, local squads are ready to go.
"Wrestling during the COVID pandemic has been challenging, but we are 'wrestlers,' and we can monitor, adjust, and adapt," Central Bucks West coach Steve Romesburg said. "Our season started, then halted, then began again, but we are just excited to have a season of competition. So far, the wrestlers have really adapted well here at Central Bucks West. The only problem that has arisen lately is the wearing of the masks during competition.
We have not said anything about the temperature checks, the washing of hands, the six-foot distancing and the ability to only wrestle with one or two other guys because of contact tracing. However, the wearing of a facemask will present some problems. But like I said, as long as we can wrestle, we will do what our Governor, the Health Department, the PIAA, and our School District require of us."
With the Suburban One League going from three conferences to four divisions, North Penn and CB West find themselves in an open SOL Colonial Division with Quakertown - which won the past two SOL Continental Conference titles - having moving to the Liberty. Both NP and the Bucks return a state qualifier - junior Will Morrow for the Knights, junior Carl DiGiorgio for West - while young Souderton side will see if it can make some noise in the Colonial as well.
Abington and Plymouth Whitemarsh - who finished first and second, respectively, in the SOL American Conference last year - join the Panthers in the Liberty. PW's Mike Miller returns after reaching states at 285 pounds in 2019 and finishing his sophomore campaign at 34-3.
In the Pioneer Athletic Conference, Mark Harner takes over at Methacton after 16 seasons at Norristown and looks to start building the Warriors program into contenders in an always-tough PAC Liberty Division.
Faith Christian won its third consecutive District 1/12 Class AA duals title last season with the Lions returning three state wrestlers including junior Eric Alderfer, who placed eighth in Hershey at 120.
Dropping Weight >> The PIAA reduced the number of weight classes this season from 14 to 13, having been at 14 since the 2002-2003 season.
The first nine weights are the same with the changes coming in the upper weights with the last four classes now 172, 189, 215 and 285.
Opinions on what effects the move down to 13 will have are varied among area coaches.
"Thirteen is probably better. We'll see," Faith Christian coach Ben Clymer said. "There are typically a lot of ffts [forfeits], odd number of weights help tie breaker... I say it's a good move."
Methacton coach Mark Harner is opposed to the decrease.
"I do not like it," he said. "I am opposed to any proposal that will take away opportunities in wrestling."
Meanwhile, Upper Moreland coach John DeFranco said the change had its good and bad parts.
"The good is that we will have less ties that go to [criteria] during team duals and the outcome will most likely be decided on the mat," DeFranco said. "The bad is that it takes away an opportunity for a wrestler to compete this season. Additionally, the weight gap between 172 and 189 is enormous and I would have preferred a more even distribution of weight classes."
Academy New Church Coach: Eyvind Boyesen League: Friends Schools League. Last Season: 17-6 (4-0 league). Key Losses: Sean McCurdy, Jordan Wilson, Karl Cranch, George Boulajeris, Michael Trost, Jim Deng, Barry Tian. Top Returners: Lucas Weinstein (So., 126), Trenton Layton (So., 138), Simon Wang (Sr., 138), Jackson Irwin (Sr., 145), Rafe Williams (Sr., 160), Dante DeMaria (Sr., 170), Jimmy Melvin (Sr., 285). Others to Watch: Jaxon Merion (Fr., 106), Luke Hyland (So., 113), Niko Boulajeris (Jr., 132), Chase Thygeson (So., 145), Brady Carver (Fr., 152), Leam Knipprath (So., 152), Derron Pitcairn (Sr., 160), Cooper Wynn (Sr., 170), Leopold Kline (So., 170). Outlook: The Lions look to stay on top of the FSL after winning the league for the first time since 2017. ANC returns two of last year's three National Prep qualifiers in sophomore Weinstein and senior Melvin. "As defending league champs, momentum continues to build as we bring in a good number of new wrestlers who will add nicely in helping to fill the weights," Boyesen said. "Although we graduated some key impact athletes, we will be able to utilize many of the underclassmen and fill these vacancies. Weinstein and Melvin, both National Prep qualifiers, look to improve their chances in the tournament. All this is dependent upon our school allowing the natural flow of athletics to happen."
Central Bucks West Coach: Steve Romesburg (eighth season). League: SOL Colonial Division. Last Season: 9-11 (1-5 SOL Continental Conference). Key Losses:Gunner Mullin (132), Blake Bensing (160). Top Returners:Teague McCormack (Jr., 106/113), Justin Lose (So., 126), Chris Cleland (Sr. 132), Jack Wierzbowski (So., 152), Carl DiGiorgio (Jr., 215), Gil Green (Sr., 285). Others to Watch:Anthony Nocito (Fr., 113), Andrew Gilroy (Fr., 138), Jake O'Donnell (So., 138), Michael Long (Jr., 145), Zach Venziale (Fr., 152), Teddy Gilroy (Fr., 215-285). Outlook: DiGiorgio qualified for states at 195 as a sophomore last season and finished the year 34-7 while Both McCormack and Cleland advanced to regionals in 2020. "For the second year in a row, CB West will only have two seniors on their roster and will look for some leadership from several of the younger wrestlers," Romesburg said. "When you are relying on youth, there is a little uncertainty, but our team expectations are to mature and to keep striving for excellence. "West will still have a couple of holes (forfeits) in their line-up, so giving up a few team points going into each match will be normal. Wrestlers will focus on one match at a time and will always be looking to score (pin) when the opportunity is presented to them."
Faith Christian Coach: Ben Clymer League: Bicentennial Athletic League. Last Season: 12-8, District 1/12-2A duals champion, first place District 1/12-2A Tournament, fourth place PIAA-2A South East Regional. Key Losses:Max Schultz (PIAA-2A qualifier), Damon Waltenbaugh (PIAA-2A qualifier), Isaiah Vizcarrondo, Andy Muzika. Top Returners: AJ Slayton (So., 120/126), Lincoln Hower (So., 138/145), Eric Alderfer (Jr., 138/145), Leo Muzika (Jr., 215), Luke Slack (Sr., 285). Others to Watch:Cody Wagner (Fr., 113). Outlook: The Lions, who won their third straight District 1/12-2A duals title, return three of last year's five state qualifiers in Alderfer - who placed eighth in 2A at 120 pounds - Slayton and Leo Muzika. "Definitely a rebuilding year for us, but still have a good nucleus of guys," Clymer said. "At this point, our outlook is just to try to keep the group motivated and excited about growing our program. We will struggle this year as a dual team, but have the potential for multiple state placers."
Hatboro-Horsham Coach:Trent Mongillo (fourth season). League: SOL Liberty Division. Last Season: 6-9 (4-3 SOL American Conference). Key Losses: AJ Tamburrino (PIAA-3A fifth place, 152; Navy), Logan Flynn (PIAA-3A qualifier, 220; Bloomsburg). Top Returners:Orion Newell (So., 113), Joe Martini III (Jr., 138). Others to Watch:Alanna Barberio (Sr., 106), Sam Smith (Sr., 145) Jake Wood (Sr., 172). Outlook: "Quakertown enters the newly formed SOL Liberty Division with the familiar cast of teams from years past I welcome renewing the rivalry with Coach [Kurt] Handel and with the strength of Abington and Wissahickon, the league should be very competitive for years to come or until they realign everyone again in 2 years... I would put it on Abington or Quakertown to win the league this year," Mongillo said. "I wish all SOL teams good luck this season. Stay safe, work hard, and help your student athletes to achieve their team and individual goals this season."
Methacton Coach: Mark Harner (first season). League: PAC Liberty Division. Last Season: 3-12 (0-5 division). Wrestlers to Watch:Joey Simko (Fr., 120), Grant Baker (Jr., 132), Edgar Carbajal (Jr., 140), Levi Borkowski (Fr., 145), Brody Borkowski (Jr., 152), Joshua Cancro (So., 215), Damian Moser (So., 285). Outlook: After 16 seasons at Norristown - going 168-123 - Harner takes over another PAC program as the Warriors, who look to make the step towards moving upwards in the highly-competitive PAC Liberty. "Our coaching staff is very excited with the future prospects for this very young squad," Harner said. "We have 32 wrestlers on the roster with no seniors, nine juniors, 12 sophomores and 13 freshmen. The reduction in the number of upper weight classes hurts, as we have a number of promising young upper weights. "Prior to the last shutdown, attendance and overall team work ethic were excellent. This year will most likely be tough competing the PAC's big school division. However, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel with this young, hard working group."
North Penn Coach: Robert Shettsline (27th season) League: SOL Colonial Division. Last Season: 9-7 (4-2 SOL Continental Conference). Key Losses:Jarret Niedosik, Nolan Roberts, Alec Schrum, Nolan Verespy. Top Returners: Will Morrow (Jr., 160), Nophir Harrell (Sr., 152), Eddie Galang (Sr., 132), Dylan Reinhard (Jr., 120) Others to Watch:Michael Cliver (Fr., 126), Brayden Shannon (Fr., 138). Outlook: Shettsline see this year's Knights squad as balanced but lean on backup along with missing the first two weights. Morrow was a state qualifier last season at 138, the District 1-3A East champ ending the season at 28-9 "A team goal every year is to win our league championship," Shettsline said. "We also want to compete at district duals and qualify multiple wrestlers for the state championship tournament. "The outlook changes all the time, we are hoping to get in as many matches as we can with every changing rules."
Plymouth Whitemarsh Coach:Dan Madonna. League: SOL Liberty Division. Last Season: 11-4 (6-1 SOL American Conference). Key Losses:Paolo DiSanto. Top Returners: Mike Miller (Jr., 285), Aston Wittenberg (So., 120), Jake Williams (Jr., 113), Jake Bainbridge (Sr., 189), Justin Bainbridge (So., 160). Outlook: The Colonials took second behind Abington in the SOL American last season and will try to stay among the top sides in the SOL Liberty Division. Miller earned his first trip to PIAAs last season at 285 and went 34-4 as a sophomore.
Souderton Coach: Tristan Boyd (10th season). League: SOL Colonial Division. Last Season: 6-14 (3-3 SOL Continental Conference). Key Losses:Dan Villalba. Top Returners:Tyler Geiger (Jr., 132/138), Tyler Walter (138/145). Outlook: Geiger was a regional qualifier last season after taking second in 126 at the District 1-3A North tournament. "While our team is still extremely young, our freshman class marks the first installment of upcoming talent that exists in our middle school and youth programs," Boyd said. "We are very excited about the work-ethic and athleticism that this year's freshman class provides. There is more talent to follow in the next few years and we are eager to see their growth and maturation throughout their high school careers. In addition, we are excited to see our upperclassman continue to develop and to build upon last year's experiences."
Upper Merion Coach:Chris Falcone (first season). League: PAC Frontier Division. Last Season: 3-22 (0-5 division). Key Losses:Miguel Amor, Sean Williams, Collin Power. Top Returners:Ayden Cheng (Sr., 138). Others to Watch:David Estock (Jr., 145). Outlook: Falcone takes over as Vikings head coach after being an assistant the previous five seasons. Cheng finished 28-7 as a junior in 2020. "The team consists of nine dedicated wrestlers," Falcone said. "We will not fill every weight class but these wrestlers are ready to put their best foot forward. Myself and (Assistant) Coach (Tim) Harner are not concerned with the division and or the state of the league. We are concerned and focused on individual success. We just want the wrestlers to gain the knowledge from the practice room and put it out on the mat during competition."
Upper Moreland Coach: John DeFranco (ninth season). League: SOL Freedom Division. Last Season: 13-9 (3-4 SOL American Conference). Key Losses:Chris Walker, Tyler Patterson, Sean Fagan. Top Returners:Collin Evanson (So., 113), Charlie Hogan (So., 120), Nasir Thomas (Sr., 189), Owen Dunleavy (Jr., 215). Others to Watch:Randy Dillon (So., 132). Outlook: Thomas and Dunleavy are back in the Golden Bears' lineup after both took sixth at District 1-3A East last season. "I am very appreciative of our AD, Sean Feeley and the Upper Moreland School District supporting wrestling this season and intend to give these kids every opportunity to safely compete!" DeFranco said.
Wissahickon Coach:Anthony Stagliano (11th season.) League: SOL Liberty Division. Last Season: 8-12 (2-5 SOL American Conference). Key Losses:Dan Keller, Kevin Salmon, Christian Smalley. Top Returners:Owen Dowling (Sr., 152), Matt Fritz (Sr., 145), Alex Prieston (Sr., 138), D.J. Adriaanse (Jr., 132). Others to Watch: Nathaniel Chez (So., 160). Outlook: Seniors Fritz and Prieston are back after both advanced to regionals in 2020 as the Trojans try to make some noise in an SOL Liberty that includes two conference champs from last season in Abington (American) and Quakertown (Continental). "Obviously going to be a different type of season with many fewer matches, etc.," Stagliano said. "We have a few seasoned vets that should score some points for us especially in the middle of our line-up, but we're going to need to have others step up to be able to compete with some of the better teams including Quakertown who is back in our league. Having fewer matches may put a damper on some milestones including Matthew Fritz trying to obtain 100 wins - hopefully we'll get in enough matches and Matt goes deep into the post-season to achieve this worthy goal."