The curtain rises on the Pennsylvania high school wrestling post-season this weekend, and as usual, it promises to be quite the show.For all involved, the ultimate destination is Hershey, where the state tournament will be held March 6 through 8 at the Giant Center.
The road to states, however, is a grueling three-week journey. In what can best be described as a game of survive and advance, wrestlers will first need to navigate their way through three straight weekends of tournaments - sectionals, districts and regionals - to realize their dreams of making it to the big show in Hershey.
"We call it the gauntlet," said Kennett head coach Tyrone Johnson. "It's a brutal three weeks to make it to Hershey. We're in one of the best districts in the state for wrestling.
"The regular season is just to prepare everyone for the post-season. And right now everyone is trying to get focused and get their minds ready for these tournaments. Because at this point, everyone should be physically ready. The mind is the most important thing right now."
It's been five years since a wrestler from either Kennett or Unionville reached the state tournament. Kennett's last state qualifier was Tyler Jones in 2002. Dave Suh (2003) and Zach Leathers (2001) are the most recent Unionville wrestlers to advance to Hershey.
"Zach Leathers is going to come in and talk to our kids this week," said Unionville head coach Chris Matz,"and we're going to watch film of Dave Suh wrestling in Hershey. Those two things should help pump our guys up.
"Once you get past sectionals [the first tournament], everybody is tough," added Matz. "There's not much difference between the first guy and the last. There's so many variables. Maybe a kid has a bad night, maybe a kid didn't lose weight properly and he's weak. Kids are starting to wrestle earlier and earlier and that's why it's tougher to get to states now a days. It wasn't as hard when I wrestled. If you started in eighth grade then you had a great chance to get to states. If you start wrestling in eighth grade now, you're in big trouble, because there's so many good kids out there."
Kennett and Unionville will both open the post-season this Saturday, Feb. 16, at the District 1 Section 4 Tournament at Great Valley High School. At sectionals, as it is called, wrestlers will need to finish in the top-four of their weight class to advance to the District 1 Central Tournament at Spring-Ford High School the following weekend. The District 1 Central Tournament combines Section 4 and Section 6. A top-four finish there earns wrestlers a spot in the Southeast Regional Tournament (combination of Sections 1 through 6) on Feb. 29 and March 1 at Council Rock South High School. Regionals are the final destination on the road to Hershey, with wrestlers needing a top-four finish once again to reach states.
This season, Kennett and Unionville each have at least one wrestler with a strong shot at reaching Hershey and ending the five-year local drought without a state qualifier.
For Kennett, junior Kyle Bove is well on his way to shattering the school's all-time career wins record of 114, set by former standout Tyler Jones in 2002. Bove's career record currently stands at 95-9. Bove, who will go at 125 pounds this post-season, is 26-4 this winter. Last year, he made it to regionals, coming within just one-match of qualifying for states.
"Losing that match really hurt him bad last year," said Johnson. "He's our best wrestler and he's been our best wrestler for a while. I would love to see him make it this year. It's not going to be easy, though, he's in one of the toughest weight classes you'll see."
Just as Bove is on the verge of becoming Kennett's career wins leader, Unionville senior Nick Fischer, with a strong post-season, could break Zach Leathers' all-time record of 122.
Fischer currently has 111 wins. This year, Fischer is 30-1 overall and the 140-pounder also came close to states last year as a regional qualifier.
"He's been at this level and he has the experience," said Matz. "He just needs to put it all together now. Nick has become more of a total package this year. He's the only kid on our team who hasn't missed a practice this year, and No. 2 he's a lot stronger."
Unionville has two other wrestlers who are having outstanding seasons: senior Colin Ely, who is 29-2 with 22 pins at 189 pounds, and freshman Mason Popham, who is 30-2 overall at 130 pounds.
Also looking to make strong post-season runs for Unionville will be sophomore Joe Bonaduce (125, 23-9, regional qualifier last year), senior Chris Carney (112, 17-9), senior Ben Holloway (171, 18-11, district qualifier last year), junior Alex Robillard (145, 22-10) and sophomore Zander Adams (135, 14-14).
For Kennett, senior Josh Trykowski is rolling right along at 160 pounds, sporting a 28-6 record entering the post-season.
"I think Josh is one of the most underrated wrestlers around," said Johnson. "He's beaten some very tough kids, and everyone he has lost to has been ranked high."
Kennett freshman Dan Dicce (103, 18-8) and sophomore Chris Myers (145, 17-11, district qualifier last year) are the other top Blue Demons entering the post-season.