FORT WASHINGTON >> It was right up there on Spring-Ford's list of goals for the 2017-18 season.
Not the ultimate target for District 1's dual-tournament weekend. But getting back to Hershey for the PIAA Duals - an experience the current senior class took in as freshmen, but not since - was big on the Rams' mindset this winter.
And not even a 46-20 loss to Council Rock South Saturday, in the district's Class AAA championship match at Upper Dublin, could dull the glimmer of the program's run in the duals.
"It was a goal of ours all season," head coach Tim Seislove said following the Rams' runner-up finish. "Actually, our goal was to be district champions. But we fell one match short."
For seniors like Brandon Meredith, a return to Hershey's Giant Center for PIAA team competition was a welcome change from the past two go-rounds, when the program went 1-2 and fell far short of finishing among District 1's four teams qualifying for states.
"It's exciting to get back," Spring-Ford's star lightweight said. "There are only a handful of kids on the team who got to witness the experience."
The Rams were joined in state duals qualification by Boyertown, which finished fourth in the tournament. The Bears got the critical qualifying work done with a 39-28 victory over West Chester Rustin in their consolation semifinal, but then lost to Downingtown West in the third-place match, 42-24.
Spring-Ford was the equal of Rock South in the early going, taking a 17-15 lead after the 285-pound bout. But the Hawks answered by winning six of the next seven weights - Meredith's 8-2 decision of Braden Ricchini at 120 the lone bump - to complete their sweep of the duals field.
"It was a good weekend," Seislove said. "I'm proud of the kids being in the position to wrestle for a district championship."
With Ben D'Arcangelo and Chase Smith scoring respective major decisions at 160 and 195, and Louis Carbajal adding a three-point verdict at 220, the Rams set the stage for Tyler LaRocca to pin them into the lead. But South's Kyle Waterman put the brakes on their surge with his major decision at 106.
Maximino Mendez (113), Ben Radner (132), Eric Woloshyn (138) and L.J. Kahn (145) followed with pins around Shane Hanson-Ashworth's narrow 4-3 decision at 126.
The Rams' current hectic schedule resumes Wednesday when they face Owen J. Roberts - a rematch from Friday's duals quarterfinal - for the PAC's Liberty Division title. Then it's off to Hershey and a first-round meeting with the District 3 champion.
"These kids have been with us 3-4 years," Seislove said. "They've had their disappointments in wrestling, but it's big for them to be one of the top 16 teams in the state."
And as one of the few Rams who've been on the Hershey trail before, Meredith embraces the role of "institutional memory" for those teammates who haven't.
"I'll try to give them as good advice as I can," he said. "I want to see how far we can make it."
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Boyertown has been a perennial presence in the PIAA duals tournament in recent years.
It's back in the mix this winter ... but with a decided difference.
After years of punching their ticket to the next level during Saturday's district sessions, Boyertown is now in the position of wrestling a state-bracket pigtail match Monday to make a return visit to Chocolate World.
Boyertown will be required to travel to the Harrisburg area Monday to face Central Dauphin, District 3's third seed. Only after winning that match will the Bears be able to think about returning to Hershey for the state duals.
"It's nice," Miller said. "This was our goal all year, getting to states, and we achieved our goal."
In its consolation semifinal with Rustin, Boyertown worked its was back from an early deficit for a 24-16 lead through 285. Brett Breidor's 1-0 decision at 152 preceded pins by Jacob Miller (182), Zak Reck (195) and Elijah Jones (285) - all scored inside the first two minutes - and Jacob Sonder's 1-0 verdict on Zack Jones at 220.
"We have really good upper weights," Miller, who kick-started the Bears' ultimate match-winning rally, said. "We knew that was how we had to win."
The Bears never lost the lead the rest of the way, though Rustin cut it down to a pair (24-22) through 106. Chase Stehman and Noah Fisher followed with decisions at 113 and 120, respectively, before Aidan Hager administered the clincher, a 4:27 pin at 126.
Ethan Himes capped the match with a 4-2 sudden victory at 138.
In the third-place contest, Boyertown stayed within reach of the Whippets through six weights, trailing by just three (15-12) after Jones recorded a 4:57 pin at 220. But West posted falls in five of the last eight bouts to secure the third seed and a less-extensive trip Monday to Archbishop Ryan for Hershey qualification.
"Our kids showed up in a big way for the first match," head coach Dave Jones said at the end of the day's action. "We told them the 'hay is in the barn'. The training is behind us, now the test is before us.
"This is one of the goals the kids set, to be one of the district's top four. It's something they wanted to accomplish."
NOTES >> Council Rock South, which topped Boyertown to win the 2017 district duals, will go against the District 7 second seed in the opening round.