|Coaching Changes:||Michael Spirk to Paul Kochanasz (Allentown Central Catholic)|
|Terry Buckno to Jody McMullen (Dieruff)|
|Ray Ferraro to John Balliet (Emmaus)|
|John Lutinsky to Jake Llewelyn (Jim Thorpe)|
|Gordon Bartholemew to Roger Washburn (Northampton)|
|Dave Hawk to Mike Pladus (Northwestern)|
|Darwin Brodt to Jim Johnson (Palisades)|
|John Balliett to Unknown (Palmerton)|
|Tim Cassidy to John Toggas (Parkland)|
|Donald Marsh to Henry Callie (Pen Argyl)|
|Jan Dutt to Rick Thompson (Phillipsburg)|
|Richard Gross to Mike Free (Salisbury)|
|Mike Free to Bob Kern (Slatington)|
|Robert Kratzer to Ray Ferraro (Whitehall)|
|Joe Nolasco to Mike Bertolino (Wilson)|
|Structural Changes:||No major changes.|
|East Penn||Easton (11-0)|
|Centennial||Pocono Mountain (8-0)|
|Colonial League Tourney:||Nazareth (3 Champions)|
|Centennial League Tourney:||Pocono Mountain (3 Champions)|
|Class AAA:||Easton (4 Champions)|
|Class AA:||North Schuylkill (4 Champions)|
|Class AAA:||District XI 9 Total Champs Bethlehem Catholic, Easton & Northampton (2 Champs each)|
|Class AA:||District XI 9 Total Champs Catasauqua and East Stroudsburg (2 Champions Each)|
|Class AAA:||Easton 1st with one champion|
|Bethlehem Catholic 3rd with one champion|
|Individual State Champions:|
|Class AAA:||Randy Ascani, 119, Easton|
|Bernie Brown, 185, Bethlehem Catholic|
|Dennis Atiyeh, Hwt, Dieruff|
|Class AA:||Matt Gerhard, 98, Catasauqua|
|New Jersey:||John Barna, 105, Phillipsburg|
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 fifteen coaching changes in the Lehigh Valley area, as outlined above in the Recap. 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.
Easton claimed the 1980 East Penn League title, but lost five starters, but was still considered the favorite to repeat. The Rovers were led by the “Sweet Seven” later the “Magnificent Seven” of Tony Morello, Randy Ascani, Pete Stoelzl, Andy Causa, Barry Rutt, Jim Dicker and Chip Easterday per writer Ted Meixell. Bethlehem Catholic returned state champ Bernie Brown, Vince Stravino and Duane Peoples among others. Phillipsburg returned state champ John Barna, two district champs and a regional champ transfer. Liberty, Freedom, Northampton and Parkland were in the ‘second tier’ of a competitive league which featured 7 of 12 teams with new coaches.
In the Colonial League, Nazareth, with 11 returning lettermen, and Saucon Valley, with 7 returning starters, were again expected to battle for the league title. Bangor and Catasauqua were considered contenders who potentially could challenge the top two teams.
Pocono Mountain made a big step and tied for 2nd in the Centennial League in 1980. As the new season began, the Cardinals who had seven solid returning starters, were favored to claim the league crown. Last year’s defending league champ, Notre Dame and co-runner-up Northwestern both lost significant talent including a combined three state champions. In addition, both teams had new coachers. So it was expected to be rebuilding years. Lehighton and Stroudsburg were expected to be in the 2nd tier and possibly surprise.
The season opened on November 29th as Freedom and Saucon Valley matched up in an interesting non-league match. The Panthers jumped out to a 15-6 lead on falls by Tim Burke (98) and Bill Hershey (119) and a decision by Sean Finkbeiner. The Patriots countered as Scott Turner and Ken Russell scored decisions followed by Lou Benedict’s fall to lead 18-15. The teams would split the final four bouts, but John Triantafelow’s fall in the final bout gave Freedom a 29-27 win. Notre Dame rallied through the middle weights and then got a fall from Marty Hlay in the final bout to edge Wilson 32-27.
On December 3rd with Parkland traveling to Hazleton, it was Hazleton who showed their pinning prowess by scoring five on the way to an easy 41-14 win.
One night later, East Penn and Colonial League action kicked off. In the Colonial League, Nazareth led Southern Lehigh 18-15 and then won the final four bouts including three falls to win 40-15. Catasauqua was looking to break into the top tier as they scored five falls to Wilson’s five and nipped the Warriors 33-32. Defending champ, Saucon Valley cruised over Palisades 60-6. In the EPC, Bethlehem Catholic routed Allen 49-6.
On December 6th, Bethlehem Catholic scored four falls for 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 and won all but two bouts. The Rovers had three falls, and Barry Rutt edged Duane Peoples 4-3 in a feature match at 145. In the Colonial League, Saucon Valley jumped to an early lead and downed upstart Catasauqua 37-18.
With three falls, Stroudsburg trounced two-time defending Centennial league champion, Notre Dame, 38-17. Meanwhile, Northwestern trailed Slatington 21-0 but fought back for a 30-28 win. Pocono Mountain Cardinal was rolling up big wins over the competition in the northern tier after a fine 13-3 season the previous year and pounded Palmerton 44-9.
Two days later, Saucon Valley won the final four bouts to upset Hazleton 32-21 then downed Wilson 44-12. 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 thanks for four straight wins from 132-155; 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? Phillipsburg debuted by whipping Warren Hills 40-16. Pocono Mountain continued dominating the Centennial League with a 45-7 win over Slatington.
Bethlehem Caatholic had four champs – Vince Stravino (119), Duane Peoples (145), Cos Retrievi (167) and Bernie Brown (Hwt) to run away with the Christmas City holiday tournament. Freedom (Dom Villani and Scott Turner) and Allen (Rocky Davis and Troy Holman) both had two champs. Easton had three champions (Pete Stoelzl, Andy Causa and Jim Dicker) to nip Shikellamy by ½ point in the Millionaire Top Hat Tourney; Saucon Valley’s Sean Finkbeiner and Bill Hershey also won titles.
Pocono Mountain had seven champs to win the Jim Thorpe Tourney while Emmaus won the Hamburg Tourney. Phillipsburg was 2nd in the Council Rock Tourney with three champs (John Barna, Kevin Stocker and Mike Margeson).
Easton, Bethlehem Catholic and Hazleton then did battle in the annual Easton Holiday Tournament. The Rovers won half of the individual titles to run away with the tournament title with Becahi and Hazleton far behind. Title winners for Easton included Paul Zarbatany (98), Tony Morello (112), Randy Ascani (126), Pete Stoelzl (132), Barry Rutt (145) and Jim Dicker (155) along with four runner-ups.
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 (Lee Ashenfelder, Mike Dlugos and Brett Fehnel) to prevent the upset. Phillipsburg dumped Voorhees, New Jersey’s #1 ranked team, by an identical 26-24 score. Easton defeated a solid Freedom team 46-6. Emmaus continued their winning ways topping Allen 34-20 while Bethlehem Catholic upended Parkland 36-15
Bethlehem Catholic again traveled to New York to wrestle in the Tri-State Tourney and dominated with nine finalists and six champions. Phillipsburg upset Voorhees, the #1-ranked team in New Jersey, 26-24. The same day, Liberty and Stroudsburg both defeated Wilson.
On January 14th, Easton continued its dominance of EPC competition by winning all but one match against Parkland to win 46-6. One night later, the Hawks returned to Bethlehem and handled Liberty 42-11. Nazareth topped Wilson 33-17 as they won 8 bouts and tied one. 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. Emmaus beat Northampton 26-21 and Dieruff 41-13 to go 10-1 on the season.
January 22nd saw two huge match-ups – 1 in the Colonial League and 1 in the EPC. 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. In other Colonial League action, Bangor got a final bout fall from Scott Faurnfeiter to beat Wilson 30-24.
Jim Benzing’s and Bernie Brown’s falls in the final two bouts gave Bethlehem Catholic a 28-22 win over Phillipsburg while Easton rolled over Liberty 40-10. Pocono Mountain crushed Notre Dame 45-8 in a key Centennial League bout while Stroudsburg beat Northwestern 37-22 and Lehighton edged Slatington 27-23.
(Phillipsburg – Bethlehem Catholic Photos Courtesy of Britton Bentley)
A few days later, Liberty got falls from Mike Capuano and Dave Green in the final two bouts to defeat Nazareth 30-14. The Blue Eagles bounced back two days later to down Freedom 39-21.
As January came to an end, Easton dealt upstart Emmaus only their 2nd EPC loss with a 54-6 rout. Bangor was looking to upend Saucon Valley for the #2 slot in the Colonial League, but Saucon Valley scored five falls to win 35-22. Pocono Mountain was looking forward to a Centennial League showdown with Stroudsburg and barely survived a 25-22 scare from Lehighton. Northwestern jumped out to an 18-0 lead and then held off Emmaus 28-23. Liberty’s Dave Green scored a major decision to defeat Saucon Valley 26-21, and Lehighton rallied late to upend Freedom 28-24.
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.
On February 9th, Stroudsburg won close decisions at 167 and 185 to edge Whitehall 29-23. On February 12th, Bangor jumped out to a 9-6 lead on Nazareth, but the Blue Eagles won the next seven bouts in a row as Nazareth clinched the Colonial League title with a 34-15 victory over Bangor. Pocono Mountain shut out Pleasant Valley 61-0 to win the Centennial League title.
Easton had nipped Shikellamy by ½ point in the team race in the Millionaire Top Hat tournament in December 1980. A few weeks later, Shikellamy challenged Easton to a dual meet, and the Rovers accepted. So on Valentine’s Day 1981, the 17-0 Rovers traveled to Sunbury to wrestle before a sellout crowd of 2,200 fans in a dual meet with the 17-0 Braves to decide the top team in Pennsylvania.
The Braves started quickly as Mike Balestrini scored a fall at 98. Brian McIntyre avenged a loss in the Top Hat Tourney to beat Jim Orner 4-2 at 105, and then Tony Morello gave the Rovers a 7-6 lead by scoring a 20-11 major decision over Mike Underkoffler. Shik took their last lead of the match 9-7 after Rory Piermattei defeated Frank Bilotta 11-7 at 119. Randy Ascani (126) and Pete Stoelzl (132) each scored decisions, and the Rovers again led 13-9.
Back in the Top Hat Tournament, Andy Causa and Greg Auman had gone into overtime with Causa winning 1-0. This time, it was Auman who led 1-0 with only 25 seconds left in the match. That’s when Causa scored a reversal and back points to win 5-1 in a huge bout. Three more extremely competitive bouts followed. Nate Carter downed Barry Rutt 7-4 at 145. At 155, Shik’s Jesse Waltz led Jim Dicker 10-9 and allowed an escape at the beginning of the 3rd period. After a takedown by Dicker, escape by Waltz, Dicker won 12-11. Greg Fatool kept the Braves in the match by defeating Rich Gordon 12-10. The team score stood at Easton 19-15.
Chip Easterday clinched the match for the Rovers with a 13-6 over Bob Cook before George Stahl scored a fall over Tony Lupi to make the final score Easton 22-21!
Both coaches had nothing but positive comments after the match. Easton Coach Dave Crowell thought the Braves “are as tough as any high school team I’ve ever seen” while Braves’ Coach Phil Lockuff said “there were two fine teams out on that mat. I’m proud of my kids and Easton fans can be proud of their team.”
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 as they won the team title over Lehighton and Northwestern.
The first weekend of the AAA District tourney would see Easton’s “Magnificent Seven” seniors, Tony Morello (112), Randy Ascani (119), Pete Stoelzl (126), Andy Causa (132), Barry Rutt (138), Jim Dicker (155) and Chip Easterday (167) 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 (138), Cos Retrievi (155) and Bernie Brown (185). At 98, Northampton’s Steph Billy and Nazareth’s Greg Noll had collectively upset the #1, #2, #3 and #4 seeds. In the finals, Billy pinned Noll. At 105, Matt Billy gave Northampton its 2nd straight titlist. At 112, Saucon Valley’s Bill Hershey nipped Easton’s Morello 7-5. titles in the first two weights. Hazleton’s Gary Kaschak nipped Causa 6-5 for the 132 title while pinner Dennis Atiyeh from Dieruff won the final bout of the evening.
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 (105), Mark Hoffman (112), Mike George (132) and Eli Peleschak (155) – to outpace Catasauqua to win the AA team title. The Rough Riders had the only remaining undefeated wrestler in the tournament, Chris Gerhard (138), along with 3 runner-ups. Lehighton had three champs – Dennis Semmel (98), who defeated Matt Gerhard 4-2, Keith Sensinger (167) and Larry Stern (Hwt) to finish 3rd. Dan Stout (126) and Mike Lieberman (185) won titles for East Stroudsburg; Northwestern’s Mike Hontz (119) and Palmerton’s Dave Jones (145) rounded out the titlists.
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. The Rovers Magnificent Seven all qualified for states with Andy Causa and Jim Dicker winning titles. Northampton (Steph and Matt Billy) and Bethlehem Catholic (Vince Stravino and Bernie Brown) had two champs each while Saucon Valley’s Bill Hershey, Freedom’s Scott Turner and Dieruff’s Dennis Atiyeh were also crowned champions. The finals were incredibly competitive with none of the first ten bouts decided by more than three points. Two matches went into overtime as Stravino avenged a district finals’ loss to top Ascani and Freedom’s Scott Turner downed Stoelzl. Brown and Atiyeh each pinned all three of their opponents.
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 champions. Matt Gerhard turned the tables on Lehighton’s Dennis Semmel 6-3 at 98. Mahoney Area’s Gary Sanchez beat North Schuylkill’s Kent Lane in overtime at 105. North Schuylkill’s Mark Hoffman (112), Bangor’s Dan Boyer (119, Palmerton’s Dave Jones (145) and Lehighton’s Larry Stern (Hwt).
PIAA State Championships
The AAA state championships would see ten District XI grapplers advance to the semi-finals including four from Easton. Dieruff’s Dennis Atiyeh rallied late twice. Six District XI wrestlers were able to reach the finals including two from Easton and Bethlehem Catholic. In an all Lehigh Valley final at 119 with Easton’s Randy Ascani edging Becahi’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 finishers (Tony Morello and Andy Causa) to win the team title while Bethlehem Catholic finished 3rd. Pocono Mountain’s Barry Yocum also finished 3rd while Hazleton’s Keith Maurer and Northampton’s Matt Billy were 6th.
With no returning state champions in the AA field, it was a wide-open tournament. Eleven District XI wrestlers won their opening round bouts, but only three would make it to the semi-finals. Catasauqua freshman, Matt Gerhard, was the only local finalist, and he won the 98 pound AA title by an 8-2 scored to become his school’s first state champion. Matt’s brother Chris finished 3rd at 138 along with Lehighton’s Dennis Semmel at 98 pounds. East Stroudsburg’s Dan Stout (126), North Schuylkill’s Mike George (132) and Lehighton’s Larry Stern (Hwt) all finished 4th, and Lehighton’s Keith Sensinger (167) was 6th.
There were several All-Star matches held after the season. The first was held at Bloomsburg State College and featured two events: PA vs. NJ and District 4 vs. District 11. Phillipsburg’s Mike Margeson won his bout at 167, but the PA Team won 32-18. The District 4 team had five wrestlers from Shikellamy while District 11 had wrestlers from ten different schools. The District 4 team triumphed 28-22.
On April 5th, the Pittsburgh Press Classic would see four District XI wrestlers compete on the PA team and three of them would win. Easton’s Randy Ascani would win by a major decision while Hazleton’s Gary Kaschak lost a close 8-7 decision to future Iowa State star, Jim Gibbons. The US team led 19-16 with Becahi’s Bernie Brown and Dieruff’s Dennis Atiyeh waiting in the wings. Brown won 3-1 and then Atiyeh won a wild come-from-behind 18-17 bout to give the PA team a 22-19 win. District 11 defeated District 7 by an identical 22-19 score on the undercard. Half of the District 11 lineup was made up by the remaining six members of Easton’s Magnificent Seven with four of them winning. Hazleton’s Scott Moisey, Becahi’s Vince Stravino (119) and Pocono Mountain’s Jim Battisto (145) won their bouts.
The first Easton Lions Classic was held on April 11th. The PA Team led by the seven Easton seniors won 35-15.
Phillipsburg crowned four District 16 champions (John Barna, Jim Smith, Frank Stillo and Mike Margeson) to win the team title by 5-1/2 points over Delaware Valley. They advanced five wrestlers to the NJ state championship as Barna, Russ Storm and Margeson won Regional titles. John Barna won his 2nd NJ State title at 105 & was named the Outstanding Wrestler while Frank Stillo placed 3rd.