CHA wrestlers see fresh faces at holiday tourney
In a change of pace, Chestnut Hill Academy wrestlers went up against some of the PIAA programs from around the region as they participated in the ninth annual Ralph Wetzel Holiday Classic last week. Held December 29-30 at Hatboro Horsham High School, the event featured 17 schools ranging as far afield as Pequea Valley in Lancaster County and Delaware’s Cape Henlopen High School.
Considering that the Blue Devils only entered four wrestlers in the varsity brackets (five others participated on the JV level), CHA emerged with a respectable 14th-place finish, garnering 50 team points. Team champ Downingtown East posted 193 points, but then the Cougars have some three dozen wrestlers in the program, while Chestnut Hill routinely struggles to fill all the weight classes in varsity matches.
At the Wetzel Classic the Devils picked up third-place finishes from senior Will Emery (285 lbs.) and junior Dan Gallagher (171 lbs.), while senior Brendan Spearing (189 lbs.) came in sixth. The other varsity entry for CHA, senior Ethan Wang, wrestled at 215, well above his actual weight, and he did not fare as well in last week’s event.
“This is an opportunity for us to wrestle against some schools we don’t ordinarily see,” said Chestnut Hill head coach Charlie Neely, “and with our league matches coming up, this can be a wake-up call for our older guys.”
The only other Inter-Ac League squad at the tourney, Malvern Prep, made a strong showing. Winning three weight classes and taking second in another, the Friars collected 131 points to place fourth overall, behind Downingtown, Upper Moreland (161.5), and host Hatboro Horsham (157).
In the junior varsity tournament, Chestnut Hill entered Jordan Wang (103 lbs.), Matt Klauder (125), George Kunkel (135), Connor Small (140), and Tyler Hightower (285). Klauder picked up a pin in one of his tournament matches, and Hightower was the most successful of the Blue Devils in the JV draw, winning the title in his weight class.
A pair of pins got the sophomore heavyweight through to the semifinals, where his opponent defaulted due to an injury. Following a 0-0 opening period in the championship bout, he started the second round in the bottom position, and picked up a point when his rival, Downingtown East’s Tom Beels, was penalized for locking hands. Hightower escaped a few seconds later to go up 2-0.
In round three, Beels picked up a point by escaping from the bottom position. He tried to take down the Chestnut Hill tenth-grader with what amounted to a martial arts throw, but Hightower fought off the attempt and came away with a 2-1 decision.
At the varsity level, CHA’s Spearing opened up with a 67-second pin, then left the main draw on the wrong end of a 6-1 decision. In the consolation draw, he advanced with pins against opponents from Archbishop Wood and West Chester East, making it to the semifinals.
Here a takedown attempt by his rival, Cheltenham High’s Orvin Liburd, landed the two wrestlers off the mat, and Spearing aggravated a knee injury he’d suffered on the football field. Liburd won that bout, 10-0, and Spearing finished sixth overall after losing the fifth/sixth match later on.
Meanwhile, at 285, Emery had to start off by wrestling the eventual tourney runner-up, Zak Mysza of Central Bucks East. After dropping a close decision, 0-2, Emery came back to post a quick pin in his first wrestle-back contest. A forfeit then sent him into the consolation semifinals, where he fell behind 3-4 in the third period, but then reversed and pinned Cheltenham’s Terron Gay.
A second-period pin got CHA’s Gallagher going, but in his second match at 171 lbs. he was edged out, 7-6, by the eventual class runner-up, Downingtown East’s Rob Fitzgerald. In his consolation semifinal, an initial takedown by Gallagher was countered with a reversal by Perkiomen Valley’s Chris Kline. After this 2-2 tie it was all Gallagher, as the junior scored takedowns and picked up back points to win a 13-2 major decision.
The tournament organizers kept two mats occupied until the very end of the event, so that the matches for third and fourth place could be held simultaneously with the championship contests.
After a long wait through the lightweight and middleweight matches, CHA fans saw Gallagher take the mat to vie for third place with Joe Mannino of Central Bucks East. In a flash, Mannino snared an ankle and took down the Chestnut Hill grappler, but Gallagher later escaped and the opening period ended 2-1.
Starting on the bottom for round two, Gallagher freed himself to tie the score, then moved ahead 4-2 as he completed a takedown with 25 seconds left in the middle period. Mannino started the third with an escape to pull within one point, 4-3, but Gallagher took him down again with 1:14 left in the match. Mannino fought his way free once more with nine seconds to go, but that would be the last point in the match as Gallagher prevailed, 6-4.
Last up for Blue Devil fans was Emery, whose rival for third-place at 285 lbs. was Angel Carlo of Abington High School. Carlo’s only loss up to that point had come in overtime against the eventual class champion, Malvern’s Joe DiTrolio.
After a scoreless opening period, Emery escaped from the bottom to go up 1-0 in the second. While countering a takedown attempt by Carlo, the CHA senior was able to latch onto an ankle and then moved behind his foe to complete a takedown. Now holding a 3-0 advantage, Emery started the third period in the top position. After about 20 seconds he turned Carlo, and he pinned the Ghosts’ heavyweight with 1:35 still on the clock.