Flying High: Eagles crown two champs, send eight to Districts, claim team title

By on February 21, 2018

Fresh off a disappointing one-and-done performance in the District Dual Tournament, the Cocalico wrestling team set its sights on redemption heading into Saturday’s Section One Tournament at Governor Mifflin Intermediate School.

And redeem themselves, they did.

When all was said and done early Saturday evening, the Eagles advanced a total of eight wrestlers on to Districts, had six finalists, claimed a pair of individual sectional crowns and captured the overall team championship.

Senior Josiah Gehr won his third-straight sectional crown at 120 pounds while sophomore Kayde Althouse earned his first title to lead the way. Other finalists (all of whom took home silver medals) included seniors Owen Zimmerman (170), Ben Fromm (195), Joe Bearinger (220) and heavyweight Austin Shaver. Two other qualified for Districts — to be held this Thursday to Saturday, Feb. 22-24 at Hershey’s Giant Center — as junior Wyatt Gehman won a bronze at 182 while sophomore Grant Swann plowed through a tough 132-pound weight class to finish fourth and punch his ticket.

Cocalico scored a total of 188.5 points which clinched the overall title ahead of runner-up Exeter (176) and third place Garden Spot (168).

“I think the kids just wanted it today,” Cocalico Coach Matt Fittery said. “You could see the fire in their eyes…you could see them having fun and just kind of getting after it. Six guys in the finals and eight going through to Districts…I’m pleased with that. That’s a good day.”

And winning the team title?

“That is very exciting,” Fittery said. “I’m not sure if we have ever done that since we moved to triple-A. That’s exciting. The kids wrestled tough.”

As the top seed at 120, Gehr (29-4) breezed to the finals with pins over Reading’s Mason Smith (quarterfinals) and Nick Fasig of Oley Valley (semifinals). However, things got a whole lot tougher in the finals against Twin Valley’s CJ Morton, a state qualifier from a year ago.

With both in attack mode, Morton led Gehr 6-5 heading to the third before the Cocalico wrestler escaped to even things up. Then, with both looking for the winning takedown, Gehr secured a nice single-leg with 1:18 to go before holding on for a hard-fought 8-7 victory and his third title.

“I like winning,” Gehr, who admittedly was fighting fatigue, said when ask what motivated him in the final period. “I enjoy winning and I don’t enjoy losing, so when it comes to wrestling, even if I am tired I’m going to try my best to get it done.”

Althouse (27-6), who earned a pair of first-period falls over Aaron Martin of Garden Spot in the quarters and Reading’s Logan Iswalt in the semis, had some early trouble with Twin Valley’s Mason Bennett in the finals at 126 when he was caught in the first period. Althouse surrender five points but did get out of danger, and then closed out the period with a five-point nearfall of his own to actually lead 7-5 which sent him on his way to a 10-6 decision and the title.

“I just worked on what I had to do because I went out and did a move that I wasn’t familiar with and got stuck on my back,” he said of the early close call. “But it feels good. I worked hard for it.”

Fittery added, “He wrestled tough. He got caught and put on his back one time but battled through. And that’s great to see. When a kid gets caught in a bad position and he fights off his back and comes back and still wins the match, that’s showing a lot of maturity.”

Top-seeded Fromm (33-3), a returning state medalist and arguably one of the Eagles’ best, ironically has never won a sectional title.

He was denied his first sectional gold Saturday, losing a 6-2 decision to Exeter’s Mike Crane in the finals at 195. The bout turned late in the first period when Fromm illegally slammed Crane to the mat. Crane did eventually continue, and leading 3-0 heading to the third, put it away with an escape and then a late takedown.

The win earned Crane the Outstanding Wrestler Award.

“I think maybe in the beginning with the slam, it kind of got inside Ben’s head to where he potentially could lose on that call, and then he just maybe didn’t get back in it mentally as much,” Fittery said. “I don’t know, but the big thing is he is still through to Districts. The same thing happened last year, he didn’t win sectionals but he was a state medalist. Really, it’s great to be a section champ but it doesn’t have an effect, other than seeding, of him going to states and winning a state medal. That’s still all on the table for Ben.”

Zimmerman (19-5), a first-year varsity wrestler, earned a 4-2 overtime win over Josh McNamara of Conestoga Valley in the semifinals to secure his Districts spot. However, in the finals, his bid for a title was denied as Governor Mifflin’s Dante Carallucci captured an impressive 12-2 major decision win.

Bearinger (9-3) pinned his way to the finals at 220 before Exeter’s Dennis Karas returned the favor with a fall in 1:43. Shaver (18-14), who pinned top-seeded Ryan Crane of Exeter in the quarters, advanced to his first sectional final with a 3-1 decision over Skylre Gillette of Reading in the semifinals. He trailed Governor Mifflin’s Jordan Espinosa just 2-0 heading to the third, where the Mifflin wrestler put Shaver on his back and secured a fall at the 5:09 mark.

At 182, Gehman (15-6) shook off a 5-2 quarterfinal loss to eventual champion William Kitsch of Governor Mifflin, and went 3-0 the rest of the way to win the bronze. He finished it off with a 13-4 major over top-seeded Jack Meyer of Conrad Weiser in the third-place bout.

Swann (27-12) won a pair of bouts to reach the semifinals at 132 before dropping a tight 5-3 decision to Elijah Ortega of Reading. He rebounded with a 1-0 victory over Chris Matthews in his first consolation bout to clinch his berth to Hershey, before dropping an 8-3 decision to Anthony Steinmeyer of Wilson in the third-place bout.

“We took some losses in the finals but getting eight guys through to Districts is the biggest thing,” Fittery concluded. “It might be the highest number of guys we’ve had, at least since I’ve been coaching. I’m very pleased. The guys were having fun and they got after it. You got to want it at this point. Some guys want to go home, but I think our guys showed that they wanted it. They wrestled tough.”

Ephrata also competed at the Section One Tournament Saturday where the Mounts, who entered just five wrestlers in the tournament, closed out the day without anyone advancing to Districts. Kelvin Cruz led the way for the Mounts, finishing sixth overall at 145 pounds.

Cruz, who went 2-3 on the day, advanced to the fifth-place match where he dropped a 14-4 major decision to Wilson’s Nick Williams.

“We performed pretty well,” Coach Sean Lees said. “I mean, I think with what we have in the room to practice with, the commitment level of the athletes, I think we’re about where we can be right now. I think they wrestled to their ability.”

Lees, who completed his first year at the helm, was asked where improvements need to be made heading into the off-season.

“We need to hit the gym hard,” Lees said. “The main focus will be to get our guys stronger. We also need to recruit hard at the middle school level because to recruit a bunch of high schoolers, where they are first-year sophomores, juniors, seniors…that’s not really how you want to build a program. If they want to come out great, but I’m really looking to build up the middle school program, so that when they get to me I have good numbers of experience.”

 

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