BOYERTOWN - For the first time in 10 years, the Pioneer Athletic Conference has a new defender ... and a new contender.
Both - that's Boyertown and Owen J. Roberts, respectively - opened their wrestling seasons Saturday at the Bear Duals.
And both - again, that's the Bears and Wildcats - fared rather well.
Boyertown, which ended Upper Perkiomen's nine-year league run, went 4-1 to finish second, falling only to St. Mark's, Del., 49-17, in the final. Owen J. Roberts, which has a few very talented freshmen to blend in with a handful of veterans, went 1-4 to finish seventh. Not bad, considering the field included District 1's Council Rock North and Henderson; District 11's Bethlehem Liberty and Blue Mountain; District 3's Hamburg; District 5's North Star; New York's Warwick Valley; and defending Delaware state champion St. Mark's.
"We're just trying to keep the intensity up and keep a positive mood," said Boyertown sophomore Alex Pellicciotti, who may have moved up three weight classes to 135 pounds but showed no signs of missing a step after going a perfect 5-0 on the day. "Things are a little more strict this year, and everyone is working a lot harder.
"There's still a couple of good wrestling teams out there, like Spring-Ford and Upper Perkiomen. Even Owen J. (Roberts) has a decent team this year. But we're getting leadership from everywhere, especially from our captains (Tom McNamara and Tim Feroe). And after our first match today, I thought we picked it up and got more intense."
The Bears opened with a 42-30 decision of North Star; got five pins to take a 36-34 thriller from Council Rock North; used the fourth criteria (most technical falls) to break a 32-32 stalemate with Blue Mountain and get their third win; then got into the final with a 53-12 rout of Warwick Valley.
Against St. Mark's, the Bears fell out of contention when the Spartans strung together four pins, a major decision and a decision from 215 through 125, taking an insurmountable 40-17 lead.
"Last year was last year ...our focus isn't on last year, our focus is on this year," said Boyertown head coach Pete Ventresca. "We feel the PAC-10 (title) is up for grabs. There are some very competitive teams, so it is anybody's title this year."
Though Ventresca lost a good number of seniors and a whole lot of wins to graduation, he does have a promising lineup anchored down low by freshman Jeremy Minich (103) and Matt Malfaro (119), in the middle by Pellicciotti, Trevor MacMinn (140), Brock Hallman (152) and Feroe (160); and up top by McNamara (189) and Chip Stoudt (215).
Just how well the other newcomers fare - like Peter Jones (112), Adam Benfield (125-130) and Zach Heffner (171) - will determine the Bears' fate by winter's end.
"Right now, we're not that worried about the wins and losses," Ventresca said. "We're worried about effort. That's all we can ask for.
"Right now, we're wrestling well. Most of our kids are young and still learning how to work hard. A lot of this now is a good wakeup call for the young guys, who are discovering just how different the intensity of high school wrestling is."
Ironically, Owen J. Roberts is pinned down under that learning curve as well.
Head coach Steve DeRafelo has a lot of holes to fill this season, and he has a pair of freshmen (Jordan Moser at 125 and Scott Syrek at 189) as good as any newcomers in the entire district and a heavyweight transfer (Randy Keehn from Pottsgrove) who will win his share of bouts to fill three of those voids.
"Coach feels we could be good," said Bentley, whose banner day included a last-minute, come-from-behind decision of Henderson's Tim Boate, a rival who owned four straight wins over the OJR senior.
"We're kind of listening to him, too.
"We're practicing hard. We have new guys, but we feel we have a tough team, and we battle all the way. We feel we could have a good year."
Despite the scores Saturday, OJR actually fared as well as Bentley and DeRafelo could've expected, especially with two starters out of the lineup.
The Wildcats opened with a narrow 36-31 setback to Hamburg; dropped a 39-22 encounter with Liberty; dumped Henderson by a 43-29 count; and fell to powerful St. Mark's by a 53-18 spread. In the seventh-place final, the Wildcats came up short of Warwick Valley, 46-25.
"Things are better," Bentley said. "We have a better attitude. Last year, we just went out there and what happened, happened. Now we go out there expecting to win. We want to battle."
DeRafelo does, too.
"If we stay healthy we could be OK," said DeRafelo. "But there's no leeway. If we get an injury there's no one to put in there. But I'm happy with the way the kids wrestled today. I'm happy with where we're at right now.
"Everyone is working hard. In year's past, we always had one or two kids we had to pick up from time to time. This year, there's none. Everyone is scrapping"