Qualifying for a state wrestling tournament? Big stuff.
Qualifying for a state tournament a first time? Even bigger stuff.
A senior qualifying for a state tourney for the first time? Priceless.
Five wrestlers from teams in the Pioneer Athletic Conference find themselves in that scenario. The quintet of grapplers - Austin Boaman from Owen J. Roberts, Louis Carbajal and Quinn Tobin from Spring-Ford, Matt Martin and Zach Rozanski from Upper Perkiomen - will be graduating this spring.
Before that, they will close out their scholastic mat careers with first-time qualifications for the PIAA Class AAA Tournament, which starts today at the Giant Center in Hershey.
"Better late than never" speaks compellingly to their unique situation.
For all of them, making the state tourney is the culmination of breakout seasons in their final high-school go-round. For a few, it's the achievement of a goal they fell narrowly short of accomplishing previously.
"I'm glad I made it," Martin, a competitor in the 113-pound weight class this winter, said prior to a pre-Hershey tuneup earlier this week. "I could have done better last year. I was knocked out in the second round of (regional) consolations."
At this year's regional, however, Martin (36-6) got to the semifinal round before being dropped into wrestlebacks by Downingtown West's Dominic Findora. He responded with a win over Abington's Matthew McCaughey to qualify for the third-place bout, where he pinned Downingtown East's Ryan Loraw in little more than two minutes.
Beating McCaughey, and subsequently clinching a spot in states, took a lot of weight off Martin's shoulders.
"A lot," he agreed. "I felt more relaxed wrestling after that. It was one of my goals at the beginning of the season."
Martin (34-6) opens states in the first round. His opponent will be Nico Taddy, a freshman from West Allegheny whose credits include a 34-6 record and runner-up showing in the South West AAA Regional tournament, at 113.
Rozanski (35-10) faced a similar set of circumstance his junior season, also eliminated in the second round of consolations at the South East AAA Regional. Falling into the 138 wrestlebacks after a quarterfinal loss to Quakertown's Domenic DeFalco in this year's regional, he won his way into a third-place rematch with DeFalco and a slot at Hershey.
Though consigned to fourth place by DeFalco, Rozanski was nonetheless cheered by his state-qualifying win over North Penn's William Morrow. Wrestling for third freed him from the win-or-else pressure of the fifth-place bout.
"It was a relief to finally do it," he said.
The final go-round of Rozanski's scholastic career begins in the preliminary round, against Pocono Mountain East's Steven Storm (36-4). The senior is the North East AAA Regional's third-place medalist.
Persistence and perseverance were the hallmarks of Boaman's scholastic career. As an underclassman in 2019, he was behind state-level teammates like Daniel Mancini, Connor Quinn and Ricky McCutchen on the Owen J. varsity depth chart.
Mancini finished his OJR mat career as a 152-pound state champion in 3A. Quinn (160) was making the second of his three Hershey visits for the individual tourney as a member of the OJR squad and McCutchen (170) also qualified for states his senior year.
"It was pretty tough cracking the lineup," he admitted.
But when an opening came up this winter, Boaman took advantage of the opportunity. He built a 32-11 record through the regional, was the Pioneer Athletic Conference's 170-pound individual champion and finished with a silver medal from the District 1-AAA North Section tournament two weeks ago.
"I knew in the beginning I had a spot at either 160 or 170," Austin recalled. "I worked hard every day, and I accomplished my goal of getting to Hershey."
Particularly satisfying for Boaman was his 8-3 overtime decision of Boyertown's Alan Alexander ... and not just because it got him to states. Their consolation-semi duel was a "rubber match," Boaman winning their regular-season duel but getting topped by Alexander at districts.
"When he beat me in the district final, I was a little bit mad about that," Boaman said. "I worked my butt off, knowing I had to beat him when it counts."
Boaman will open states in the preliminary round. His opponent will be Brenden Spicer, a senior from Father Judge and North East AAA Regional fourth-place finisher with a season record of 37-13.
He will have the advantage of receiving pointers from teammates Antonio Petrucelli and Quinn about how to deal with wrestling in the state individual.
"They told me to enjoy the opportunity, and to not get my head too high," Boaman said. "Anything can happen in that arena."
Boaman's self-confidence and stick-to-itiveness over the course of his scholastic career impressed head coach Steve DeRafelo
"A rare thing these days, for a kid to stick around for four years in a sport like this when they are not varsity," DeRafelo said. "I am so glad it paid off for him."
His junior year, Tobin faced the disappointment of a near-miss for states. He was sixth in the South East competition, a 1-0 loss to Quakertown's Corey Cope in their medal-round bout preventing him from qualifying for the trip to Hershey.
This time around, Tobin (40-10) has made the Hershey field ... albeit by his scheduled fifth-place opponent, Josh Viarengo of West Chester Rustin, forfeiting due to medical issues. Quinn didn't find out about the scratch of Viarengo - he won their quarterfinal-round bout 2-0 - until the rematch was ready to begin.
"I was pretty nervous," Tobin said. "It was the same position I was in last year. I was told he had a concussion."
Tobin's opponent in the 132-pound prelims will be Cole Homet (39-13), a sophomore from Waynesburg Central who is the South West AAA Regional's third-place finisher.
For Carbajal (28-12), whose furthest previous post-season advance was the pigtail round of the 2017 District 1-AAA West competition, a semifinal-round major decision of Pennsbury's Davis Lee punched his Hershey ticket. A subsequent loss to Sun Valley's Ryan Catka in the 195-pound championship couldn't overshadow Carbajal's qualification for states.
"I'm glad for whatever I get," he said. "It took me four years to get here."
Carbajal will open in his weight class' first round against Bellefonte's Tyer Benner, a senior and North West AAA Regional runner-up with a 27-11 record.
* * *
Other preliminary-round bouts today will see Spring-Ford's Dominic Ortlip (21-10) face off against West Allegheny's Ty Watters (18-1) at 106, Boyertown's Chance Babb (25-10) against Father Judge's Eamonn Logue (31-5) at 126, Daniel Boone's J.T. Hogan (38-4) against Abington's Shane Kibler (33-8) at 145 and Methacton's Roman Moser (27-8) against Knoch's Guy DeLeonardis (23-3) at 160.
In the first round, Boyertown's Julien Maldonado (31-6) will take on the winner of the preliminary between Upper Darby's Keito Shaw (33-6) and Nazareth's Andree Ferraina (32-14) at 113, Methacton's Kibwe McNair (29-1) goes against either Central Dauphin's Bryce Buckman (37-7) or Seneca Valley's Chanz Shearer (35-9) at 138, OJR's Petrucelli (37-4) against the winner of the Jared Keslar (Connellsville, 31-8) and Jake Dressler (Nazareth, 34-11)) prelim at 145, Spring-Ford's Jack McGill (41-7) against Central Dauphin's Tye Weathersby (43-6) at 152, Owen J's Quinn (30-3) against either Carlisle's Colton Zimmerman (27-6) or Bethlehem Catholic's Jamir Jiminez (24-11) at 160 and Spring-Ford's Joey Milano (43-1) against Meadville's Griffin Buzzell (26-7) at 182.
* * *
J.T. Hogan will carry the standard for Daniel Boone at Hershey by himself. Hogan became the Blazers' lone representative to the state tournament by placing third in the South Central AAA Regional two weeks earlier at Spring Grove.
The Boone sophomore placed second in the District 3-AAA Section 1 competition at Gov. Mifflin, that after being a sectional champion as a freshman. He takes a 38-4 record into the Giant Center, wrestling in a 145-pound weight class where he's performed all but once this season.
* * *
Along with state-level medals, two area wrestlers are in pursuit of another personal achievement.
Julien Maldonado and Roman Moser head to Hershey in good position to join The Mercury coverage area's legion of 100-win wrestlers. Both come into the season finale with 98 victories for their scholastic careers. Reaching triple-digit wins will make Maldonado the 37th grappler in the history of the Boyertown program to achieve that distinction, and Moser the 14th at Methacton.
NOTES >> The AAA bracket's Thursday schedule starts with preliminary and first-round bouts at 4 p.m., with first-round consolations following at approximately 8:30 p.m. ... Antonio Petrucelli, Connor Quinn and Kibwe McNair are each making their third visits to Hershey for the individual tournament.