Moving on Up: Defending champion Eagles embrace challenge heading up to Section One

By on November 30, 2016
Cocalico’s Josiah Gehr (left), shown here during the State Championships last season, leads the Eagles as they get ready to embark on their first season in Section One.

Cocalico’s Josiah Gehr (left), shown here during the State Championships last season, leads the Eagles as they get ready to embark on their first season in Section One.

After winning its first Section Two title under Coach Matt Fittery a year ago, Cocalico will face a new, more difficult challenge in the 2016-17 season.

The defending champions, who return the bulk of their roster from their section title squad, elected to move up to a deeper Section One at least for the next two seasons, by virtue of the Hornberger Rule, which allows teams to mutually agree to move up or down.

What that means is if the Eagles plan on repeating as a section champ, they’ll now have to plow through deeper lineups from the likes of L-L heavyweights Solanco, Warwick, Penn Manor, Manheim Township and Hempfield to do so.

“I’m very excited about it,” said Fittery, who enters his seventh season as head coach at Cocalico. “I think it is definitely the right move for our program and for the future. It will be a challenge for us but getting to face better teams will help us get better prepared for the post-season. We’d like to end up hopefully making State Duals at some point and face those tougher teams, and being in Section One is going to help us get there.”

Returning State Qualifier Josiah Gehr agreed.

“It’s definitely a big step but I think it’s necessary,” he said. “As our program grows, we want to be faced with bigger challenges, and moving up gives us that extra push, and that experience will really help us in the long run and help us to grow as a wrestling team.”

Certainly they’ll miss the rivalries with Manheim Central and Ephrata, among others who will remain in Section Two. However, Fittery said one of the biggest reasons the Eagles agreed to the switch is the night-in, night-out challenge they’ll face against Section One competition.

“Obviously there are a lot of tough teams in Section Two as well, and we are going to miss that aspect of it and especially some of the rivalries we had. But overall I think the depth in Section One is going to challenge us more and give us some more close and tough matches, and I think that will benefit us. Since most of the schools are bigger, I think there will be more schools with full lineups. I think we’ll have fewer forfeits and I think there are more schools that will be competing for the section title. In Section Two it was always two or three schools that it would come down to. There are legitimately five or six schools in Section One that are right up there.”

Looking back to last season, certainly winning a title was the highlight of the year, especially after placing second the year before.

“Winning the section was awesome,” Gehr said. “It was just a great experience and a cool environment to be in.”

Senior Max Martin agreed.

“It was great to see what could come after the last couple years getting so close,” he said. “A lot of people waited a long time for that and I was glad I was able to be a part of that.”

While the Eagles must replace former State qualifier Abdul Saad, along with solid veterans Trevor Fichtorn and Adam Miller from their 19-4 team that also qualified for the District Duals, the bulk of the lineup is back for 2016-17.

Gehr heads that list after a break-through season a year ago. The junior earned a sectional title, placed fourth in Districts and was the Eagles’ lone State qualifier. He went a respectable 2-2 at States to close out his season at 38-6.

“I would love to make it farther than I did last year,” Gehr said. “I was one win away from placing at States so I’d love to take that next step and make the podium.”

In addition to Gehr, some of the other key returnees will include senior District qualifiers Max Martin (23-17) and Brady Maxwell (28-10), as well as junior Ben Fromm (25-10) who also made Districts a season ago. Also back are sophomores Trevor Hale (12-14) and Wyatt Gehman (11-19), along with junior returnees Nate Fritz (28-10) and Devin Sensenig (10-11).

A few notable newcomers up from the junior high squad include freshmen Kayde Althouse (13-0) and Grant Swann (15-4), along with sophomore Seamus Finnegan (15-4).

“I think we’ll have a solid lineup again,” Fittery said. “We should be able to fill every weight. We have a lot of guys coming back and some new guys coming up that I think will do well. It’s exciting. We had a lot of guys individually that had some success last year that are returning as well.”

The Eagles open the season December 9-10 at the Top Hat Tournament in Williamsport. Later that week, they begin Section One play at former Section Two foe Conestoga Valley Dec. 14 at 7 p.m.

 

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