LOWER POTTSGROVE >> It wasn't to be part of the equation for the Pioneer Athletic Conference's 2018-19 team championship.
But a change in the process has Spring-Ford in good position to finish atop the circuit. A big outing Saturday has the Rams emerging as the champion-in-waiting.
Spring-Ford dominated the PAC's individual tournament at Pottsgrove. The competition, returning after a year's absence from the league schedule, saw the Rams collect seven gold medals from 12 finalists ... a haul good for 258.5 points, more than 60 ahead of runner-up Boyertown and 70 more than third-place Owen J. Roberts.
"We came out with this great opportunity to get ahead," Joey Milano, the individual champion at 182, said following the weight class' medal presentation. "We work hard to get better every day."
Milano was joined atop the podium by fellow Ram wrestlers Cole Smith (106), Quinn Tobin (132), Zach Needles (138), Jack McGill (152), Xavier Cushman (160) and Louis Carbajal (195).
Other weight class champions crowned Saturday were Boyertown's Jay Maldonado (113), Owen J. Roberts' Matthew Englehardt (120), Antonio Petrucelli (145) and Austin Boaman (170), Pope John Paul II's Matt Vulakh (126), and Pottsgrove upperweights Zach Van Horn (220) and Manny Allen (285).
With the dissolution of the PAC's tourney - one that kicked off a four-week post-season run - the league decided last year's team champion from a dual match between the Liberty Division (Owen J. Roberts) and Frontier Division (Pottsgrove) regular-season leaders. This year, the tournament is part of an equation with various point values awarded from the individual competition and the teams' finishes in league duals.
The team title is subsequently open to more teams that do well in both areas. The individual competition was celebrated by the Ram grapplers while their head coach kept it all in perspective.
"It's a good start," Tim Seislove said, "but we have Boyertown this week and Owen J. the next week. We still have big challenges ahead."
The tournament championship aside, Seislove prefers crowning a champion by head-to-head competition.
"Tournament scoring and duals scoring are different," he said. "In duals, a lot depends on matchups and coin flips."
The PAC tournament was a special one for Milano. His freshman year, it was as far as he got in the post-season before medical issues cut his season short.
This time around, Milano (20-0) scored gold with a first-period pin. Half his wins this season have come from pins, and another three via technical fall.
He's focused on coming up stronger in the wake of the abrupt end to his sophomore season: Losses in two of three bouts on the final day of the PIAA Class AAA tournament, consigning him to a fourth-place finish.
"That made me realize I have to work harder to accomplish what I want, to be better every day," he said.
Another state medalist, Antonio Petrucelli, stuck with a proven strategy that earned him gold at 145. The Owen J. Roberts senior (21-2) worked a technical fall against Spring-Ford's Alex Johns, building up a 12-3 spread in the first period before closing out 38 seconds into the second with a 19-4 lead,
"It's my style, scoring a lot of points and keeping the heat on," he said.
Two years removed from the PAC's 138-pound individual title, Petrucelli pronounced himself happy to be atop one of the league's weight classes again.
"I like it a lot. It's good to have an individual tournament that brings the top teams together," he said. "Being a PAC champion will be a stepping stone to states in March."
The growing process he's undergoing has elevated Vulakh three weight classes from the 106-pound category where he competed the past two years and won state-level medals. But the Pope John Paul II junior is filling nicely into the higher bracket, as evidenced by his 8-0 win over Boyertown's Chance Babb in the 126 final.
"It's definitely a lot different style," Vulakh said. "I just have to adjust and do as well as I can. The kids are bigger and stronger. You can't overpower them ... you just have to wrestle well."
A PAC champion his freshman year, Vulakh enjoyed the opportunity to again wrestle against a field comprised of the entire league.
"It's a great tournament," he said. "Everyone gets more mat time to get better. It is a little different; there was more pressure when it was part of the post-season."
For Van Horn, a lower-level PAC medalist two years ago, the opportunity to be a PAC champion once during his scholastic mat career was a personal highlight. His 9-0 major decision of Boyertown's Anthony Bauer in the 220 final has the Pottsgrove senior and his teammates on track for even more accomplishments this winter.
"When the season started, I saw this on the schedule," he said. "My quest was to get to the top of the podium. I had dreamed of winning a PAC title.
"It feels great. I and the team's next part is to repeat as Frontier Division champions."
Capping the Rams' run of champions, Carbajal's narrow 5-4 decision of Perkiomen Valley's Jakob Sterling drew praise from Seislove.
"That was a great tribute to him," Seislove said. "Everybody who was out there contributed in some way. We had a lot of pins today."
NOTES >> Boyertown and Owen J. both had 10 medal qualifiers. The Bears had four silver medalists in Babb, Nosh Fisher (152), Jimmy Sinclair (182) and Bauer. Roberts boasted five bronze medalists: Mason Karkoska (113), David Forrest (126), Connor Leister (138), Cole Bechtel (152) and Tommy Dempsey (182). ... OJR's Connor Quinn was held out of the tournament for recurring issues with a previous shoulder injury. Quinn was a PAC champion at 126 his sophomore season.