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Upper Perk among many chasing the Bears

by Don Seeley, Pottstown Mercury Sports Editor

Posted on January 5, 2010

It's been four years since Upper Perkiomen flexed its wrestling muscle and had the upper hand in the Pioneer Athletic Conference ... four years since Upper Perkiomen strung together 74 straight wins against league rivals to pin down nine straight Pioneer Athletic Conference championships.

And even though the Indians have come within a win of at least a share of the last two titles, head coach Tom Hontz isn't convinced his current gang is ready to rock and roll with Boyertown - which has won or shared the last three PAC-10 titles - or possibly even survive a scrap with, among others, Spring-Ford and Owen J. Roberts.

Not yet at least.

"This is definitely a rebuilding year for us," Hontz said. "We're raw in a lot of spots. We have some talent, and we're seeing some improvement in a lot of our guys. But you look at Boyertown and you see they're the head of the class in the PAC-10."

There's no question Boyertown opens its eighth season in the league as the favorite.

Nonetheless, neither Hontz nor the Indians are ready to throw in the towel or wave that white flag.

Yes, he has eight freshmen and four sophomores among the 20 who have stepped onto the mats thus far this season. And yes, one of his four juniors, regional qualifier Dan Rodenberger, and one of his four seniors, district qualifier Martin McStravick, have been limited to one match each because of injuries.

But the Indians held their own in a season-opening, round robin with Hazleton, Central Bucks West and defending District 1-AAA duals champion Quakertown; handled both Governor Mifflin and North Penn; and finished fourth at the King of the Mat Tournament down in N.C.

"My morale was kind of down early on," Hontz admitted. "But I've come to really like this group of kids. They're a good group. They're willing to learn. And we've thrown the challenge out there for them."

The challenge, or at least the first one, is to be competitive - like winning nine in a row - in the PAC-10.

Achieving that won't be easy, even with a foursome of promising freshmen lightweights like Dylan Steffenino, Wolfgang McStravick, Kyle Fellman and Avery Scripture squeezed in and around the 103, 112 and 119 brackets. Steffenino is 7-1 so far; McStravick is unbeaten in nine bouts; Fellman is 2-3; and Scripture, in just his second year of wrestling, is 1-2.

Getting Rodenberger (125) and Martin McStravick (135) back would solidify the middleweight punch. And perhaps as big a key to unlocking the Indians' fortunes this winter as anything else is the upperweight portion of the lineup, namely juniors Cody Ambrose and Nate Pompei and seniors Nick Hale Dan Wolfram. All four may have had their share of struggles in the past, but they're a combined 31-14 thus far this season.

"We're going to need some luck with our health," Hontz said. "We don't really have any depth. I only have 18 kids in the (practice) room right now, so we're going to have to stay healthy.

"But during the (holiday) break the kids have worked hard. We've gotten back to basics. The one thing we do know is this group will scrap. Like I said, we've challenged them."

The PAC-10 battle begins Wednesday night, when the Indians host a much-improved Methacton. Less than 24 hours later, the Indians take off on their annual trip south to the Battlefield Duals in Va. They close out the month with xxx straight PAC-10 matches - including back-to-back battles at Boyertown (Jan. 20) and Owen J. Roberts (Jan. 23).

Hontz may or may not accompany the Indians to the Battlefield Duals. His wife, Lori, is pregnant (with twins) and her due date is next week. ... Upper Perkiomen's league-record winning streak began with a 34-29 decision of Perkiomen Valley midway through the 1997-98 season and didn't end until a forfeit loss to Perkiomen Valley in the league opener of the 2006-07 season.

OPENING NIGHT

The PAC-10 has quite an opening-night card this Wednesday. Owen J. Roberts is at Boyertown and Spring-Ford visits Pottsgrove in addition to the Methacton-Upper Perkiomen bout. ... OJR - as well as Methacton - is coming off a strong showing at the Buckskin Classic; Boyertown went 3-1 at the Cedar Cliff Duals, losing a 32-30 thriller to the state's fifth-ranked Parkland; Spring-Ford had a very respectable showing at the Manheim Christmas Tournament; and Pottsgrove, which hasn't had a full lineup due to the extended football season, began rounding itself into shape at the Christmas City Tournament.

MOVING UP

Boyertown's Alex Pellicciotti's 15-2 start has pushed his career win total to 140, which is 14th on The Mercury's all-time chart. The senior needs three more wins to tie Boyertown's record of 143 set by Jesse DeWan. A senior and two-time state medalist, Pellicciotti needs 10 more wins to become just the 17th wrestler in District 1 history with 150 or more career victories. ... Boyertown teammate Matt Malfaro (12-3) has 120 career wins and could pass both Nick Hyatt (124) and Jamie Soupik (125) by week's end to move into fifth place on the Bears' chart.

Other area wrestlers who are on pace to reach 100 career wins are Daniel Boone's Eddie Lockowitz (89), Boyertown's Jeremy Minich (84), Owen J. Roberts' Scott Syrek (78) and Methacton's Justin Andrews (76).

Hontz and Pottsgrove's Jeff Madden opened the season as the active leaders in career wins among area coaches with 269 each. Hontz is now at 271, while Madden and the Falcons will make their dual debut Wednesday against visiting Spring-Ford. Topping the area coaching chart are Boyertown's Bruce Hallman and Pottstown's Jim Tsakonas, both of whom retired with 303 and 302 wins, respectively. The late Nelson Stratton owns the area's best winning percentage (.844), compiling a 173-31-1 mark in his 11 years at Methacton.

JUST AHEAD

The District 1-AAA Team Duals tournament is less than four weeks away, with the first round set for Thursday, Jan. 28 (at sites to be determined). The remaining rounds - semifinals, wrestlebacks and finals - as well as the Class AA tournament, are set for Friday and Saturday, Feb. 5-6 at Pottstown High School. The top three finishers in AAA and the champion in AA advance to the state duals.

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