With only one of six state champions returning from a very successful post-season run, the ’80-’81 season appeared to be a rebuilding one at least at the state level. Another major development was no fewer than a dozen coaching changes in the Lehigh Valley area, as follows:
Terry Buckno – Jody McMullen (Dieruff)
Michael Spirk – Paul Kochanasz (Allentown Central Catholic)
Ray Ferraro – John Balliet (Emmaus)
Gordon Bartholemew – Roger Washburn (Northampton)
Dave Hawk – Mike Pladus (Northwestern)
Tim Cassidy – John Toggas (Parkland)
Marsh – Henry Callie (Pen Argyl)
Jan Dutt – Rick Thompson (Phillipsburg)
Richard Gross – Mike Free (Salisbury)
Mike Free – Bob Kern (Slatington)
Robert Kratz – Ray Ferraro (Whitehall)
Joe Nolasco – Mike Bertolino (Wilson)
Of the newcomers, only Rick Thompson would potentially have the firepower to match up with powerhouses, Easton and Bethlehem Catholic and a reloaded Nazareth squad.
On December 6th, Bethlehem Catholic had a convincing 36-19 win over Saucon Valley, and Vince Stravino defeated very tough Bill Hershey 13-1. The same night, Easton hammered crosstown rival, Wilson, 50-6 and Hazleton, who would wrestle a number of Lehigh Valley teams during the season as Coach Don Rohn was building the Cougars into a powerhouse, knocked off both Freedom 31-23 and Liberty 37-14.
Easton served notice in a December 11th dual with Bethlehem Catholic that they were THE team to beat as they hammered the Hawks 43-10. The Rovers had three falls, and Barry Rutt edged Duane Peoples 4-3 in a feature match at 145. Meanwhile, the Pocono Mountain Cardinals were rolling up big wins over the competition in the northern tier after a fine 13-3 season the previous year.
Two days later, Saucon Valley won the final four bouts to upset Hazleton 32-21. Northampton had shocked Easton the prior year by defeating them in a dual meet, but the Rovers gained revenge in a big way 46-6 on December 18th. The Rovers were dominant throughout winning ten bouts. Stroudsburg won another key Centennial League match by edging Lehighton 30-27, and Pocono Mountain beat Northwestern 40-15.
Heading into the holidays, Easton continued their big wins by topping Nazareth 44-9 as Paul Zarbatany (98), Tony Morello (112) and Pete Stoelzl (132) scored falls. At 6-1, Emmaus was considered to be the most improved team in the EPC. Would they be able to compete with the top teams?
Bethlehem Catholic had four champs to run away with the Christmas City holiday tournament, and Easton had three champions to nip Shikellamy by ½ point in the Millionaire Top Hat Tourney. Pocono Mountain had seven champs to win the Jim Thorpe Tourney; Emmaus won their Hamburg Tourney; and Phillipsburg was 2nd in the Council Rock Tourney. A week later, Easton also claimed its own holiday tourney by finishing well ahead of Bethlehem Catholic, Hazleton, Wilkes-Barre Meyers and others.
Early January would see “Nazareth Survive Catasauqua Scare, 26-24, in Colonial” per The Morning Call. After Chris Gerhard’s pin at 145, the Rough Riders led 18-17, but the Blue Eagles won three of the final four bouts to prevent the upset. Phillipsburg dumped Voorhees, New Jersey’s #1 ranked team, by an identical 26-24 score.
Bethlehem Catholic again traveled to New York to wrestle in the Tri-State Tourney and dominated with nine finalists and six champions. On January 15th, the Hawks returned to Bethlehem and handled Liberty 42-11. Nazareth topped Wilson 33-17. On January 19th, Northampton went 3-0-1 in the first four bouts to lead Nazareth 14-2, but the Blue Eagles won all but one match the rest of the way to triumph 36-17.
January 22nd saw two huge match-ups. With some deft lower weight line-up maneuvering, Coach Ray Nunamaker was able to lead the Blue Eagles to a 33-23 victory over Saucon Valley. Nazareth won four of the final five bouts to rally from an 18-12 deficit. Greg Noll, Mark Daney, Bruce Shoemaker, Mike Dugos and Ernie Arduani all scored falls for Nazareth.
The Annual Nazareth-Saucon Valley Rivalry Dual (Photo Courtesy of Nazareth HS Yearbook)
Jim Benzing’s and Bernie Brown’s falls in the final two bouts gave Bethlehem Catholic a 28-22 win over Phillipsburg. Pocono Mountain crushed Notre Dame 45-8 in a key Centennial League bout. A few days later, Liberty got falls from Mike Capuano and Dave Green in the final two bouts to defeat Nazareth 30-14. Easton dealt upstart Emmaus only their 2nd EPC loss with a 54-6 rout.
Pocono Mountain was looking forward to a Centennial League showdown with Stroudsburg and barely survived a 25-22 scare from Lehighton. Less than a week later on February 4th, the Cardinals upended the Cavaliers 27-19 before the “largest crowd ever to witness a sporting event in the gym on the hill in Swiftwater” per The Morning Call. Pocono Mountain did not lose a bout from 105-145. The same evening, Hazleton repeated their prior year win over North Schuylkill with a fall by Brian Brosious in the final bout to win 28-24.
Pocono Mountain Coach Ed Watto Led His Team to an Undefeated Season (Photo Courtesy of PM HS Yearbook)
On Valentine’s Day, Easton traveled to Sunbury to wrestle before a sellout crowd of 2,200 fans in a dual meet with Shikellamy. The Rovers had nipped the Braves by ½ point in the Top Hat tourney and this match would be equally exciting and close as Easton won 22-21. Brian McIntyre, Tony Morello, Andy Causa, Jim Dicker and Chip Easterday were among the heroes for the Rovers.
A few nights later, the Rovers wrestled before another jam-packed crowd – this time 2,000 fans in “The Pit.” Normally, Easton jumps out to a big lead early on its opponents, but P-Burg led 17-4 after four bouts. Easton rallied through the middleweights with falls from Andy Causa, Barry Rutt, Jim Dicker and Chip Easterday to defeat the Stateliners 34-29 and claim the EPC title.
A very competitive dual season ended with Easton, Nazareth and Pocono Mountain all going undefeated in their respective leagues to win the East Penn, Colonial and Centennial league titles. Easton finished 19-0 while Pocono Mountain was 14-0. Nazareth was 16-2 and won the 1st of what would be 16 straight league titles. Bethlehem Catholic 17-1, Phillipsburg 17-2 and both Catasauqua and Liberty were 15-4. Emmaus (15-8) wrestled an incredible 23 dual meets.
Final standings were as follows:
|Compiled Standings 1980-81||Place||W-L-D|
|Allentown Central Catholic||12||0-11|
Both Nazareth and Pocono Mountain won their league tournament titles as well. Nazareth was challenged by Saucon Valley, who had five champions, but the Blue Eagles overall balance led them to outdistance the Panthers 126.5-121.5. Pocono Mountain had three champs in the Centennial League Tourney.
The first weekend of the AAA District tourney would see Easton’s “Magnificent Seven” seniors, Tony Morello, Randy Ascani, Pete Stoelzl, Andy Causa, Barry Rutt, Jim Dicker and Chip Easterday all make the semi-finals to stake the Rovers to an 11 point lead over Bethlehem Catholic. Easton had nine wrestlers in the semi-finals to Bethlehem Catholic’s eight as the Rovers and Hawks were well ahead of all other teams after the first weekend. The Rovers continued their domination with seven finalists and four champs (Ascani, Stoelzl, Rutt and Easterday) to win the team title by over 50 points. Bethlehem Catholic had three champs (Duane Peoples, Cos Retrievi and Bernie Brown) while Steph and Matt Billy gave Northampton titles in the first two weights.
Catasauqua advanced six wrestlers to the semi-finals to challenge North Schuylkill in AA action. When the Spartans advanced six wrestlers to the finals, the team race was pretty much over. Ultimately, North Schuylkill team tallied four champions (Kent Lane, Mark Hoffman, Mike George and Eli Peleschak) to outpace Catasauqua to win the AA team title.
In the Northeast Regionals, District XI wrestlers won nine titles and advanced 23 wrestlers to the state tournament. Easton and Shikellamy had battled in a 22-21 dual won by the Rovers. Easton would again battle Shikellamy, who would win the three titles not claimed by District XI grapplers, and come out on top. The Rovers Magnificent Seven all qualified for states with Randy Ascani, Andy Causa and Jim Dicker winning titles. Northampton (Steph and Matt Billy) had two champs while Saucon Valley’s Bill Hershey, Freedom’s Scott Turner, Bethlehem Catholic’s Bernie Brown and Dieruff’s Dennis Atiyeh were also crowned champions.
The AA boys matched AAA with nine champs as well and advanced 25 wrestlers through the Southeast Regional tournament. Catasauqua (Matt and Chris Gerhard) and East Stroudsburg (Dan Stout and Bob Condron) each had two champs.
The AAA state championships would see an all Lehigh Valley final at 119 with Easton’s Randy Ascani edging Bethlehem Catholic’s Vince Stravino 6-4. Becahi’s Bernie Brown won his 2nd straight state title at 185 while Dieruff’s Dennis Atiyeh went overtime to win the heavyweight title against 6’8” 358 pound Jim Dickson from Phillispburg Osceola. Easton registered a 2nd (Chip Easterday) and two 3rd place (Tony Morello and Andy Causa) finishers to win the team title while Bethlehem Catholic finished 3rd. Hazleton’s Gary Kaschak was 2nd; Pocono Mountain’s Barry Yocum finished 3rd while Hazleton’s Keith Maurer and Northampton’s Matt Billy were 6th.
Catasauqua freshman, Matt Gerhard, won the 98 pound AA title to become his school’s first state champion; brother Chris finished 3rd at 138 along with Lehighton’s Dennis Semmel at 98 pounds.