Regionals have been spot to shine for top programs over last decade
by Don Seeley, Pottstown Mercury Sports Editor
Posted on February 27, 2009
OXFORD - Take a glimpse up and down the opening-round brackets for tonight's AAA Southeast Regional and you'll see quite a few familiar names. There's a fair share of experienced wrestlers, the juniors and seniors with long and detailed (as well as very impressive) resumés. There are also quite a number of freshmen and sophomores who, in a very short time, have established themselves because of their competitive nature and success on the mat.
But if there is a common thread that links the eventual regional champions, it's the schools they represent, or the programs they're part of.
Over the past 10 years, 55 of the 136 regional champions have come from just five different schools. In other words, five schools - or a mere eight percent of the District 1 schools in the Class AAA enrollment classification - have accounted for just under 41 percent of the gold medalists. And if you'd like to stretch it just a bit, to 11 schools, you'll find they have accounted for 87 of those 136 regional champions. In other words, 11 schools - or only 18 percent of the District 1 schools in Class AAA - have accounted for 64 percent of the gold medalists.
The Top Five the past 10 years? They have been Upper Perkiomen (18), North Penn (12), Council Rock South (10), Quakertown (8) and Pennsbury (7). The other six in that same stretch have been the former Downingtown High School and Norristown with six each, and Boyertown, Neshaminy, Owen J. Roberts and Spring-Ford with five apiece.
And if you happen to think those numbers are a bit overwhelming, consider the latter statistic would jump all the way up to just under 72 percent if you add in the seven other regional champions since 1999 who wrestled for Council Rock (before the split to North and South) and for Downingtown East and West.
The bottom line is this: There has been a small but nonetheless very elite group of programs dominating the top rung of the awards podium at the Southeast Regional the last 10 years (if not longer). And there is a noticeable, if not glaring gap between the best and all of the rest. Few realize there are 21 schools that have not had even one regional champion the last 10 years.
It's true that good teams - or programs - come and go in high school sports. Most like to call it cycles.
But peruse the local and district history books and you aren't likely to find as dominant a run - or as long a cycle - in any sport over the past 10 years as what has been ongoing in District 1 wrestling ... at least at this juncture of the season, when true district champions step up to that top rung of the podium.
Still, Upper Perkiomen veteran head coach Tom Hontz, whose crowning achievements go well beyond just those district-best 18 regional champions since 1999, truly believes the current cycle may be winding down just a bit.
"I see it ... I feel the shift is on," Hontz said earlier this week. "It's no secret we followed what Norristown and (head coach) Steve Harner were doing back in the mid-90s, which was developing a midget program and increasing the (competition-level) of your schedule. They were the ones who introduced us to the tournaments in Virginia, like the Battlefield Duals.
"And more and more teams are following the same mode now. Boyertown has been doing it for years, and look how great their program is. You can see changes now at Owen J. Roberts, at Perkiomen Valley ... and that's just in our (Pioneer Athletic Conference) league. It's happening around the district, and especially among a lot of the Delaware County schools."
Unlike some coaches, as well as their devoted followings, Hontz doesn't subscribe to the theory that only big schools are capable of producing big-time programs, either.
And regardless of enrollments, change doesn't happen overnight.
"It does take time," explained Hontz, who didn't have enough wrestlers to fill his lineup or enough fans watching to fill the visitors' side of the Upper Perkiomen gymnasium when he took over the Indians' program. "You can schedule the best competition there is, but if you don't have the horses...
"And (the horses) are bred early on. It all starts in the midget or youth programs, and it continues on up into the middle schools. You have to have good people at every level, too."
Locally, Boyertown and Upper Perkiomen have had very respectable youth programs for a number of years. Spring-Ford has put together a solid program in recent years, too. And lately, or so it seems, Owen J. Roberts and Perkiomen Valley have been making considerable waves in youth tournaments. And around the district, it's no secret just how popular - and successful - the youth programs have been, past and present, at Council Rock, Neshaminy, Norristown, North Penn, Quakertown and Pennsbury.
Those efforts have been reflected at the junior high school and middle school levels, too. At the annual Southeastern Pennsylvania Junior High/Middle School Tournament two weeks ago, it was Spring-Ford, Owen J. Roberts and Upper Perkiomen finishing one, two, three ... well in front of the rest of the 27-team field.
"More and more of the junior highs and middle schools have amped up their schedules," Hontz noted. "You can see the results. But the big thing is that they prepare the kids for what we do up at (the high school) level."
So, are things really changing on District 1's wrestling horizon?
"Absolutely," Hontz said.
We'll see (check back here in 2019 for our next 10-year review).
Upper Perkiomen's Mike McStravick pinned down his 100th win at sectionals and was looking to add to that total at last week's District 1-AAA North Tournament, but he never got the opportunity. The senior 140-pounder reluctantly pulled out because of injury.
"Mike has been battling loose cartilage in his left knee all season," Hontz explained. "(The knee) would always lock up on him, but then he'd be fine a few minutes later. But two days before districts, literally with 30 seconds or so left to go in practice, it locked up on him again, and this time it didn't unlock and he was in real pain.
"He had (the knee) worked on later that day, Friday and Saturday morning, trying to get some relief. But during warm-ups (on Saturday) you could see he was in tears from the pain and I pulled him out. It was a tough call, but the right thing to do. He was bummed out, but also relieved because he didn't want to just go out and flop like a fish. Mike's been nothing but a class kid for us."
Hontz said McStravick will long be remembered for his key pin against Nazareth that helped the Indians to the PIAA State Team Duals title three years ago.
Pellicciotti (41-3) needs three wins this weekend to tie David Jones for the school's fourth-best individual season record. Only two other former Bears have had better winning percentages than Pellicciotti - 2004 state champion Mike Spaid (43-1, .977) and 2006 state runner-up Fred Rodgers (47-3, .940). ... Pellicciotti (118), Feroe (112) and Malfaro (105) are also moving up the Boyertown career-win chart. ... Feroe is third in career pins with 71, trailing only Jesse DeWan (72) and Spaid (80).
Fuschino (123) and Bennett (117) are also moving up the career win chart. But five other sophomores here for the regional are on their way to joining the group - most likely next season. They are Minich (69), Robinson (66), Syrek (65), Clark (63) and Milligan (60). Two juniors Edmonson and Andrews, are at 81 and 71, respectively.