GRATERFORD >> There were two solid candidacies for the Outstanding Wrestler award at the District 1-AAA North tournament Saturday. Each of them valid in their own ways.
On the one side was Kelly Kakos' bid for the 138-pound weight class' gold medal, which went through Souderton's Erick Dominguez in a much-anticipated matchup of 30-bout winners. On the other side was Chance Babb's drive to a 145-pound title that would take him to the 100-win plateau for his scholastic career.
Kakos ended up the choice of the coaching voters for OW honors. Both stories highlighted the action at Perkiomen Valley, where 11 of the Pioneer Athletic Conference's 12 schools were joined by Conestoga, Great Valley, Radnor and Souderton in the first stop of the 2021-22 postseason.
Kakos (32-3) went on to post a 10-6 decision on Dominguez (30-5), the first of the host Vikings' two district champs on the day. It was a case of "home cooking" working to the advantage of the junior, who was an eighth-place state medalist at 132 his sophomore season.
"I had a little advantage, being able to work out in our wrestling room," he said. "That advantage was important to my performance."
Kakos and Dominguez dueled to a 6-6 tie late in the third period. But with 20 seconds left, Kakos scored a takedown and two back points to become a three-time champion.
"I knew I was going to be in a dogfight," Kakos recalled. "I expected him to tire out, but his motor was just as good as mine.
"At 25 seconds, I started my sprint. I wasn't getting the overtime, so I slid off his head, did a snap and got the double (leg)."
Babb's own OW bid was even more dominating. The Boyertown senior pinned his way to a final-round duel with Owen J. Roberts' Sam Gautreau, dropping Upper Merion's Casey Lamey and Perkiomen Valley's Luke Ricci.
In the gold-medal win bout, Babb (35-6) dispatched Gautreau with little more than a minute left. The milestone win was celebrated by a cheering section of Boyertown students holding up "100" signs, and by Babb himself.
"After last year's COVID season, I wasn't sure if I would reach it," he said. "This weekend, I came in looking to win. Anything else would have been a disappointment."
Babb showed no downside from a week of limited preparation due to a staph infection in his knee. Strong antibiotics and conditioning work got him on the mat this weekend.
"I just laced up and did what I had to do," Babb said.
Spring-Ford won a fourth straight district team championship, aided in large part by eight medalists out of 11 grapplers qualifying for the final round. Four of them - Gus Smith, Cole Smith, Quinn Smith and Anthony Attilio - emerged as champions of their weight classes.
Gus Smith (30-7) started the Ram parade off with a 3:35 technical fall of Methacton's Ryan Hayes at 106. The freshman ran up a 17-0 score on Hayes, who he was facing for the third time this winter.
He referenced older brother Quinn, Spring-Ford's standout 126-pounder and another of the team's district champs, as playing a prominent role in his development on the mats.
"He's an inspiration," Gus noted. "He makes me work harder. I love to watch him wrestle."
Quinn Smith (39-4) went the tech-fall route for his first district medal since scoring bronze his freshman year. The junior 126-pounder closed out Conestoga's Miles Warkentine with a 15-0 score at the 3:01 mark, and he cited the "sibling" factor in his success."
"At home we go through things together," Quinn said. "Whenever we had problems, we work them out in our family room.
"Winning (district) this year is special. Though I may have been underestimated by some, I pulled through."
In-between the brothers' victories, a third (though not related) Smith added to Spring-Ford's gold-medal haul. Cole Smith (28-2) gritted out a 1-0 decision on Boyertown's Luke Heimbach, his third victory of the winter against the Bear junior and third by a margin of two points or less.
"I knew I was going to make the finals," Cole said. "We worked the whole week in the room, putting out the extra effort."
Anthony Attilio completed the Rams' champion parade at 152, The junior (27-11) edged Boyertown's Ryder Gehris, himself outlasting PV's Carter Euker in a 5-4 TB-1 overtime verdict, by a 3-1 score.
"With my finishes, I worked to be smarter and more technical," Attilio said. "I was very happy with my performances."
The title showings, coupled with Dominic Ortlip's silver medal at 120, a third by Ryan Lepore at 145, and fourths by Ryan Horvath (172) and Kyle Huston (189), helped Spring-Ford score 210.5 points to pull away from runner-up Boyertown (179) and third-place Owen J. Roberts (167) in the team standings.
As usual for head coach Tim Seislove, the team championship is just the end result of big individual performances.
"We came in hoping the kids wrestled well," he said. "We talk about advancing and getting to regionals. Once you're there, and if things go your way, you're heading off to Hershey."
Boyertown's other district champ was Gavin Sheridan, who blanked Ortlip 4-0 in the 120-pound bout. He came in with a message for the Ram senior, a two-time district champ and state-tournament qualifier.
"I wanted to show him I'm not to be underestimated," Sheridan said. "I worked on my technique, and in my mindset that was the main goal."
Owen J. Roberts, the district's third-place team with 167 points, had a pair of champions in Matt Englehardt and Dillon Bechtold. Englehardt (22-5) topped Boyertown's Beck Babb at 132, 8-3, while Bechtold (30-6) scored a first-period pin on Phoenixville's Kael Gilbert, pinning his way through the 172-pound bracket.
"I expected to come in and win it all," Englehardt said. "I set the pace and battled them."
At 215, Pottsgrove's Dominic DeMeno 28-3 capped his title run with an 8-0 major decision of Methacton's Joshua Cancro. It's been a whirlwind season for the Falcon junior, who was 4-4 as a sophomore.
"I've done crazy workouts," DeMeno cited as a factor in his development. "Running with a vest on to give me endurance, strength and build my legs a bit."
Capping the medal round was PV freshman Cole Euker (27-6), whose pin run was topped by a first-period drop of Phoenixville's Roman Ciaverelli.
uker's drawn inspiration from older brother Grant, a junior 215-pounder whose season was halted by an injury at the PAC Individual Championships in mid-January.
"He always told me not to quit, to keep going," Cole recalled. "When I'm tired, to not stop."
NOTES >> The top four placers in each weight class were awarded medals and will advance to the South East AAA Regional next weekend at Oxford. ... Conestoga, the highest-placing non-PAC team in the field, had a pair of district champs in Hayden McLellan (160) and Jake Allred (189). McLellan edged Souderton's Ben Beckett 7-6, and Allred decisioned Phoenixville's Owen Koch 8-3.