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Season of success: Despite no state medals, area wrestlers excelled

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    Six area wrestlers, including Tamaqua’s Nate Wickersham in the above photo, competed under the bright lights at the Giant Center in Hershey during the state wrestling tournament. Despite no local medals, the season had plenty of success. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS

Published March 15. 2019 11:22PM


What happens in Hershey doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

It can’t.

The PIAA Championships is three days of elite high school wrestling, the climax of a grueling season that often produces some of its most memorable and unforgettable moments.

This year was no different.

There was a quartet of Times News area wrestlers – Lehighton’s Chris Whiteman and Logan Pagotto, Jim Thorpe’s Derek Hunter and Tamaqua’s Nate Wickersham – competing at the Giant Center for the first time, in addition to Jim Thorpe’s Ethan Mordaunt and Tamaqua’s Bronson Strouse, who were wrestling in the event for the second straight season.

That none of the six area grapplers landed on the podium Saturday was an anomaly — it was the first time since 1996 that there was no hardware coming back from Hershey.

The state tournament might have underwhelmed, but the narrative that wrestlers underachieved during the 2018-19 campaign would be untrue.

“They came out here and gave it their best effort,” said Indians’ head coach Floyd Brown. “That’s all you can ask for as a coach. Hopefully, they feel fulfilled that they gave their best effort. I think they do. I think they did.”

A by-the-numbers account shows that this season was as productive as many in recent memory.

Mordaunt captured his first league, district and regional titles this year while also collecting his 100th career victory. Strouse won the first district title of his career, and also picked up his 100th win at the tournament.

Whiteman, who also seized his 100th victory at districts, won his second straight league title this season. Hunter, a sophomore, was the 285-pound champion at the always tough and rapidly expanding Coal Cracker Tournament.

A year ago, Northwestern’s Caleb Clymer became the 19th state champion from the area, highlighting what was a truly dominant season, one that included his third district crown and first regional title.

The 2006 and 2007 seasons both produced nine state medalists, the most the area has ever seen. In recent years, that number has fluctuated, going from six in 2010, down to three (2011), back up to seven (2012) and down to one in 2013.

The three years that followed have seen the number rise incrementally, going from two medalists in 2014, to four in 2015 and up to six in 2016, a year that saw Jim Thorpe’s Kevan Gentile claim the school’s first state title. The most recent three-year trend has seen that total decline, with three medalists in 2017, only Clymer making it to the podium a year ago before that number shrank to zero this season.

While those totals vary from year to year, each respective season was greater than the sum of its parts.

Recent trends suggest that this season was simply an aberration. There is still a wealth of talent among area wrestling programs, and three of the six state qualifiers from this season will return next year, including Strouse, who will look to cap his career with a third straight trip to Hershey.

What the future holds remains to be seen. But the tale of this season is one that was told over the better part of the past three months.

Not the last three days.


HOW THEY FARED ... District 11 was well represented on the medal stand in Hershey. In Class 3A, Nazareth’s Sean Pierson (120), Northampton’s Julian Chlebove (132) and Bethlehem Catholic’s Ryan Anderson (145) all grabbed gold, while Notre Dame’s Ryan Crookham (120) and Andrew Cerniglia (145) and Saucon Valley senior Josh Jones (132) placed first. Chlebove beat Bethlehem Catholic’s Kenny Herrmann for the sixth time this season in the final. Notre Dame was the only Class 2A team with multiple state champions. The Crusaders have a chance to do it again, with Crookham (freshman) and Cerniglia (junior) both underclassmen and primed to make another run at the top step of the podium next season. Cerniglia beat Pequea Valley’s Gabe Miller, who was 43-0, 14-0 in the final. Miller pinned Cerniglia in 5:39 to win the regional crown a week earlier. The title was Chlebove’s third, while Anderson won his second state title. The Golden Hawks also won the Class 3A team title. Nazareth was third and Northampton sixth in the 3A team standings; Notre Dame was third in 2A, and Saucon Valley was tied for fourth. Cathedral Prep was the only Class 3A team with multiple state champions, Carter Starocci (182) and Kawaun DeBoe (285).


FAMILY TIES ... Northern York’s Kyle Swartz powered through the Class 3A 195-pound bracket en route to a state title. The junior, who has won sectional and regional titles this season, earned a 7-5 decision over Cedar Cliff’s Donovon Ball in the final. Kyle is the grandson of Cle Balliet of Lehighton, and Delano and Linda Swartz of Palmerton.


LOOKING DAPPER ... Three District 11 wrestlers competed at last night’s Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic event at the University of Pittsburgh’s Fitzgerald Field House. Nazareth’s Sean Pierson (120), Northampton’s Julian Chlebove (132) and Becahi’s Ryan Anderson (145) participated in the event after winning state titles. Pierson (145-24) will continue his career at Princeton; Chlebove (129-6) is headed to Arizona State; and Anderson (117-12) will attend Iowa State. The Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic main event followed a matchup between Pennsylvania’s WPIAL All-Stars and New York All-Stars.


ONE MORE TIME... Lehighton’s Logan Pagotto wrestled in the 39th Easton Lions Club Wrestling Classic Wednesday at Easton Area High School. The event featured some of the top wrestlers from District 11 competing against some of the best grapplers New Jersey has to offer. There was also a youth all star match. Pagotto, a state qualifier for the first time this season, wrestled Cody Harrison of Phillipsburg, at 152 pounds. Harrison was 45-4 this season and has a career records of 125-24.


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