The countdown to a rematch of the PIAA District One North Class 3A final was on.
Quakertown's undefeated freshman, Mason Ziegler, polished off his semifinal opponent, West Chester Henderson's Carmen Cortese, 9-2, and Pennridge freshman Sam Kuhns, who has lost only once this year, punched his ticket there with a 4-2 triumph over Spring-Ford's second-seeded junior, Dominic Ortlip, during Saturday's Class 3A Southeast Regional wrestling championships at Council Rock North.
Because of the pandemic, CR North hosted weight classes 106 through 138 while CR South had the 145 through 285 classes. Quakertown will host the "Super Regional", the last step before the PIAA championships, next Saturday.
Ziegler and Kuhns go way back to their youth wrestling days, probably squaring off since they were about 6-years old, including a final matchup last week at districts, a bout won by Ziegler, 5-0.
They are not only rivals but have become friends, too.
"Nowadays, I beat him," said Ziegler, "but he used to beat me up pretty good when we were younger."
Ziegler raised his record to 25-0 with a 1-0 won over Kuhns in the final, notching a second-period escape to account for the only scoring.
Three of Ziegler's teammates will join him at super regionals next Saturday at Quakertown, with sophomore Zach Borzio (third at 126), junior Fred Retter (third at 285), and senior Domenic DeFalco (fourth at 138).
"I can't remember the last time we got four to states, and that's what I'm calling it, not super regionals, because that's what it is, the first round of states," said Quakertown coach Kurt Handel. "To have four kids qualify in this year of unknown is absolutely amazing. It's awesome.
"It's all our school administration. They could've shut is down, they could've said no sports. I am so thankful that they gave us the opportunity to compete this year."
The Ziegler-Kuhns dynamic is more than just the two wrestlers.
Their fathers have coached them every step of the way and continue to do so now in high school as assistants with Dan Ziegler on Quakertown's staff and Brian Kuhns with Pennridge.
"Having my dad in my corner is really cool," said Mason. "He keeps me in a lot of my matches. Sometimes when I'm not scoring enough points, I'll get a little frustrated and he'll calm me down."
As for what lies ahead next week, Ziegler will have some tough customers from the Lehigh Valley waiting in Delaware Valley's Zach Jacaruso and Nazareth's Charlie Bunting, a pair of sophomore finalists in the Northeast regionals.
"I guess I should have no expectations because I shouldn't expect to do this and that because when I do I don't wrestle well. It messes up my mental (state), it makes me wrestle scared. So, I'm just going in there, I'm a freshman, I have nothing to lose."
Eck ends Bensalem's drought
While his own coaches, and rival coaches, were pumped about what he had just done, Bensalem senior Connor Eck (145) just took it in stride.
"My ultimate goal is to win a state title and that's what I'm shooting for," said Eck, after handing West Chester Henderson's Sam McMonagle his first loss of the season, a 3-1 win for the Owl, in the finals at CR South.
"This was just kind of another step along the way."
It was a big step as Eck's victory gave Bensalem its first Southeast Regional champion since Solomon Webb won in 1993.
"It's been a long time and this is great for Connor," Bensalem coach Donavin Williams said.
"He beat a tough kid and now has his sights set on doing well again next week."
Oh, Eck (now 15-1) also reached another milestone as his 3-0 Saturday pushed his career victory total to 101.
What a difference ...
Neshaminy senior Zac Martin just kind of shrugged and chuckled when trying to describe winning his second Southeast Regional title.
"The whole thing is strange, but the whole last year has been strange," said Martin, who defeated Interboro's Dom D'Agostino 8-4 in the title match at 152.
"It's great to win, this was a big goal for me, but it's so different than last year with no fans and having to wear masks when you wrestle. It's my senior year of high school, but I haven't even been to school, I'm doing remote learning, because I'm trying not to get sick.
"I'll go back to hybrid (learning) after the season, but it's just a sacrifice that you make. Everyone has made so many sacrifices and just getting the chance to have a season was something I wasn't sure was going to happen a few months ago."
The unbeaten Martin (14-0), a PIAA medalist last year who will be looking to make his fourth trip to Hershey, became Neshaminy's first two-time Southeast Regional champion since Mike Pirozzola, a 2000 graduate.
Pirozzola won three Southeast Regional titles, two PIAA titles, and remains the only District One wrestler to be a four-time PIAA finalist.
"I really want to get on the top of the podium (at states)," said Martin, a Lehigh University commit. "But I just need to get ready for next week at Quakertown.
"Next week will be like the first round and the blood round at states. If you make it out of next week (the top four finishers in each weight class qualify for Hershey) you're guaranteed a medal at states."
Ziegler, unbeaten Council Rock North senior Kyle Hauserman (17-0 at 138), Eck and Martin were the Intel/Courier Times coverage-area wrestlers to win titles.
"If this were last year, you'd already be qualified for states," Collins said. "But now we have the "Super Regional" at Quakertown to try and get through.
"That's going to be a really, really tough tournament, but at this point of the season, every match is tough."
Speaking of next week
Quakertown, which hosted last week's PIAA District One-North event, will also host next Saturday's "Super Regionals", which will bring together wrestlers from District One, Two, 11 and 12.
The "Super Regionals", though, will have a twist as wrestlers from 106 through 138 will compete in the morning session while the heavier wrestlers (145 through 285) will go in the afternoon.
The morning session is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. with the finals and consolation finals scheduled for 12:30 p.m.
The afternoon session is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. with the finals and consolation finals scheduled for 7:15 p.m.
Again, no fans will be allowed to attend.
The top four finishers in each weight class will earn berths in the PIAA tournament which will be held March 13 at Giant Center in Hershey.
The "western" half of the state will also have a "Super Regional" next Saturday and will send its top four finishers in each weight class to Hershey, making for eight-wrestler brackets at states.
So, in other words, wrestlers that finish in the top four at "Super Regionals" are guaranteed a state medal since the top eight finishers in Hershey receive them.
CR South's Cavan Kinne took the end of his high school career very much in stride. The District One North champ last week, he settled for sixth at regionals, and will now turn his attention to his next stop, Delaware Valley University in Doylestown.
"I had a really good career," said Kinne, a PIAA qualifier last season, who was unsure of his career win total but put it at 72. "I'm happy with what I did. Obviously, it's a little bit upsetting to not do what you want to do. I was supposed to win the whole tournament I read somewhere.
"That's not always how it plays out, but that's all right. I'm on to better things. I have four more years to get better doing something I love and that's all that really matters to me. Hopefully, I'll be a D3 natty (national) champ someday. I'm putting in the work. This isn't the end."
Asked how difficult was to wrestle a match for fifth place, which is basically an alternate spot should something happen to the wrestlers who qualified for super regionals, Kinne was as gracious as could be.
"I have all the respect in the world for my competition," he said. "Cole (Coffin, who beat Kinne in the fifth-place bout) deserved my best. He has another three years left and he's already a good wrestler. I'm the old veteran, so if he can learn anything by wrestling me then that's great.
"I wish all my competition good luck in the future; Tony Burke at (Council Rock) North has one year left and we wrestled each other a lot. I hope he wins it all. I respect everybody I ever wrestled. They always deserved my best and I tried to always give it to them no matter what."