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Young Guns uses team depth to win Disney Duals All-Star title
Photo: Young Guns’ Collin Glorioso (right) eventually scored the dual meet’s only pin against MAWA’s Dan Moran in 1:49 at 120 pounds to pace the Young Guns to a 25-22 victory for its third consecutive All-Star Division team title. (Martha Conklin photo)
By Jeff Shain, Special to WIN
With three of his Young Guns wrestlers off to the U.S. Olympic Training Center and another half-dozen or so already hitting the books in college, Jody Strittmatter had a hunch the path to a third straight All-Star crown at Disney Duals might be a little bumpier than the first two.
Such are the side effects of building one of the nation’s top wrestling clubs. File it away as a good problem to have.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t always prepare a coach for a scenario like the final 40 minutes of the championship match, July 2, at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex.
A comfortable 19-point lead over Middle Atlantic Wrestling’s top squad progressively turned into a nail-biter as MAWA plucked off one decision after another in the upper weights.
In the end, a Young Guns victory that would have clinched proved elusive. But MAWA never got the fall they needed, either, leaving Young Guns with a 25-22 triumph that was as much relief as it was a crowning moment.
“That was the closest one,” said Strittmatter, a 2001 NCAA finalist at Iowa who helped launch Young Guns in 2002.
“That’s what’s so special about this team,” he continued. “There are 14 guys and every guy was fighting hard. We found a way to win.”
Indeed, Young Guns captured their inaugural crown in 2013 by a margin of 35 points, followed by a 16-point triumph last year.
How many times have wrestlers (and parents) heard their coaches pound the idea that every spot in the line-up is valuable? Consider this all-Pennsylvania showdown Exhibit A.
“All those three-pointers are big,” said Young Guns 106-pounder C.J. Manley. “You’ve got to win the tight ones.”
Indeed, the outcome might have pivoted on the first two results, when Manley scored a last-second takedown to beat MAWA’s Tyson Klump, 3-2, and Max Murin (113) made a third-period escape stand up for a 1-0 triumph over Austin DeSanto.
“Those were crucial matches for us,” MAWA coach Steve Harner said. “If we could have won those, we would have won [the title]. It was a great match to watch. That’s the way you’ve got to look at it.”
Young Guns pulled it off despite turning over more than half its roster from last year’s team, which won the Disney title. Michael Kemerer (152) was the only graduated senior on the roster. And even Kemerer was one of the newcomers in the shuffle.
“Guys keep stepping up,” said Kemerer, who capped an unbeaten week with a roller coaster 10-8 decision over MAWA’s Michael Labriola.
“I watched the guys when I was the younger one on the team, and it motivated me to want to keep winning when I was the older guy. It’s just about guys stepping up and keeping the same standard.”
Manley, Murin and Cam Coy (138) all joined Kemerer with 10-0 records. None were part of last year’s team title. Jacob Robb (220) and Jake Beistel (285), another new face, were unbeaten until losing their final matches amidst MAWA’s last-gasp surge.
“I just love the fight and the dedication,” Strittmatter said. “They’re all great kids. Off the mat, zero problems. They’re never late for anything, always on time. They’re up for the challenge, and I love them for it.”
Some of Young Guns’ top talent wasn’t able to be at Disney this year.
Spencer Lee, a Cadet World champion last year at 50 kilos, was at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in preparation for next month’s Junior Worlds in Brazil.
Likewise, two-time Cadet champion Gavin Teasdale (50 kilos) and Jared Verkleeren (63) were in Colorado Springs getting ready to represent the United States at this summer’s Cadet Worlds in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“They’re doing amazing things themselves,” Strittmatter said. “They were asking me how we were doing, so I was communicating with them all week.”
With summer school starting on college campuses, it also was time for Young Guns to say goodbye to such standouts as Devin Brown (West Virginia), A.C. Headlee (North Carolina), David Whisler (Maryland) and Josh Shields and Josh Maruca (both Arizona State).
It turned out to be a week in which Young Guns got help from everyone at different times. The upper weights took charge in the quarterfinals and semifinals, both times closing out Ohio teams, before the lower weights ruled in the final.
Manley had extra incentive for his contest, a rematch of their Pennsylvania Class AAA state final last March when Klump (Nazareth) took down Manley (Altoona) with one second left for a 3-1 triumph.
This time, the script played to almost a mirror image. Klump led 2-1 as the seconds ticked down in the third period, before Manley’s inside trip scored a takedown in a thrilling victory.
“I had to ride him tough on top [in the second period],” Manley said. “I thought I was going to turn him then, honestly. Then we got to the third period and I took him down in the last couple of seconds. Yeah, it was kind of a little revenge.”
Murin followed with his 1-0 victory, which finished two periods scoreless before Murin rose quickly from the bottom position in the opening moments of the third.
“I went out trying to score right away, but it didn’t happen until the end,” Murin said. “It was kind of a boring match, but it ended up being valuable at the end. I only got the one point — but I got what I needed for the team.”
Collin Glorioso (120) staked Young Guns to a 12-0 advantage when he pinned MAWA’s Daniel Moran with 11 seconds left in the second period, steadily turning Moran to his shoulders after a takedown.
Luke Karam finally put some points on MAWA’s side of the board at 126, though his win over Gus Solomon went to a tiebreaker before he prevailed on criteria. Young Guns countered with a win by Micky Phillippi (132) and Coy’s major decision in a 15-2 romp over Kyle Shoop.
After Kent Lane (145) gave MAWA its second victory with a 5-2 decision over Robbie Patrick, Kemerer had to endure some nervous moments before dispatching Labriola in their battle of unbeatens.
Kemerer led 8-0, midway through the second period, and was still ahead 9-3 when the match was held up to treat blood on Labriola’s arm. The stoppage also turned out to be a second wind for Labriola, who scored five quick points early in the third when he took Kemerer down and put him on his back.
Kemerer eventually twisted his way out of it, holding on and scoring a late escape to prevail 10-8.
“I’ve got to work on closing out the match,” quipped Kemerer, who is headed to Iowa in the fall.
“You don’t like to be there [on your back],” he continued. “But when you’re there, you’ve got to have that fight. That’s the thing about the sport — anything can happen at any time. Obviously you’ve got to keep fighting.”
When Kaleb Young claimed a 5-3 victory over MAWA’s Cole Walter at 160, Young Guns held a 25-6 advantage with five matches to go. As it turned out, those were the last points Young Guns would put on the board.
Chris Weiler (170) started MAWA’s comeback with a 13-0 romp over an injured Jake Shaffer, who had badly sprained his ankle in the semifinals. Unable to push off properly, Shaffer spent most of the match on the bottom trying to avoid getting turned.
“He fought hard,” Strittmatter said, noting Shaffer’s late takedown in the semifinals was key one round earlier in beating the Ohio Grapplers. “Jake kind of sealed our win in the semifinals, but he hurt his ankle real, real bad. He found a way to gut it out.”
It was a momentum shifter, though, as MAWA’s John Jakobsen (182) and Hunter Ritter (195) followed with wins. That closed the gap to 25-16, giving MAWA an improbable chance to tie it with a fall and another decision.
It proved too tall a task. Though Andrew Dunn (220) and Michael Rogers (285) knocked off a pair of Young Guns unbeatens, neither came close to scoring a fall.
“They wrestled hard and we had an exciting final,” said Harner, who was seeking to bring MAWA a seventh All-Star title. “I don’t think you can find much better.”
Weiler and Dunn each compiled 10-0 records for MAWA, while Karam’s victory lifted him to 8-0. Rogers, Jakobsen, Ritter and DeSanto all finished with one loss.