I’ve used the term “The Magnificent Seven” on this website to describe the seven District XI AAA state champs during 1976.  In Easton wrestling lore, “The Magnificent Seven” referred to the seven seniors who led the dominant 1980-81 Rover wrestling team.   And, in 1996 the Rovers crowned seven district champs in the first seven weights in a dominating performance. 

As the ’95-’96 season kicked off, fans were adjusting to the many changes that had taken place the year before on the local wrestling season.  While much talent had graduated, many high quality wrestlers returned and the national level competition, which we had gotten a taste of the past few years, expanded further.

Easton returned seven starters including five District finalists along with a transfer and several talented freshmen.  With such a strong nucleus returning and Phillipsburg departing for the Skyland Conference, the Rovers were the odds on favorite to win the East Penn Conference title.  Dieruff, Liberty and Parkland were expected to battle for 2nd place.

In the Mountain Valley Conference, Nazareth and Northampton graduated five and seven starters, respectively, but were again expected to battle for the MVC crown along with Stroudsburg who had nine returning senior starters.

The Colonial League had seen many tight duals during the ’94-’95 season between Bangor, Pen Argyl, Saucon Valley and Wilson in particular.  More of the same was expected in the new year with three of the four teams with only Saucon Valley expected to take a step back due to graduating five talented seniors.

December

Several tournaments kicked off the action on December 2nd.  Host Wilson won their 2nd annual invitational tournament over tough competition from Pocono Mountain, Methacton and Liberty.  The Warriors were led by champions Ryan Garis (119), Bryan Klass (135), Chris Poff (140) and Jaime Heilman (160).  Poff, who trailed 14-9 after the first period scored a reversal and fall early in the 2nd.  Pocono Mountain had three champs in Kevin Rake (103), Greg Theony (112) and Jon Conte (125) to finish only 8 points behind the Warriors.

Emmaus Won the ASD Tourney to Kick Off the ’95 Season (Photo Courtesy of Emmaus HS Yearbook)

In the final ASD Wrestling Tournament, Emmaus won their 3rd consecutive team title with a balanced performance.  The Hornets nipped Pleasant Valley by one point while Dieruff finished 3rd.  

Phil Stambaugh – Pius X (Photo Courtesy of Pius X yearbook)

Palisades placed 2nd in the New Hope Tourney with three champs.  In dual action, Nazareth topped Pen Argyl 41-22 and Parkland won three duals. 

On December 6th, Nazareth won 11 of 13 bouts to top Wilson by a surprising 49-6 score.  In the EPC opening league bout, Easton cruised to a 56-10 win over Bethlehem Catholic.

The 4th annual Valley Youth House Elite Duals saw the bar raised even higher with visiting teams including Walsh Jesuit (two-time defending national champ, ranked #1 and returning eight starters), Blair Academy (ranked #2 nationally with three returning national prep school champs), AA power Brookville and perennial AAA powerhouse Shikellamy.   Easton entered the year ranked 4th in the country; Nazareth was 8th, while Northampton (who lost 7 starters to graduation) and Liberty were not ranked nationally.  Once again, there would be three sessions held with three dual meets per session.

In the first session, Nazareth jumped out to an early 12-4 lead but saw Brookville narrow the gap to 15-14 before pulling away for a 29-17 win.  Walsh Jesuit topped Northampton 34-15 and Shikellamy defeated Liberty 41-12.  Session #2 saw Nazareth come incredibly close to knocking off #1 Walsh Jesuit.  After Eric Kelly’s tech fall at 103, the next four bouts were decided either by one point or in overtime. Each team won two bouts, and Nazareth led 11-6.  Nazareth had two falls (Tony Vitale and Marc Aber) to counter a fall and tech fall by Walsh, and they led 23-17 with four bouts to go, but Walsh Jesuit would win 3 of the next four bouts to escape with a 28-26 win.  Liberty and Brookville battled to a 26-26 deadlock, but Nick D’Amico’s 7-6 win at heavyweight was Win #7 for the Hurricanes, and they won on criteria.  Blair Academy showed that they were too much for the rebuilding Konkrete Kids with a 55-9 win.

John Hard Helped the Kids Top Liberty (Photo Courtesy of Northampton HS Yearbook)

In the evening session, Easton took to the mats for the first time to face Walsh Jesuit.  The Rovers strong light weights built a 23-3 lead after Jamarr Billman’s win 1-0 over multiple-time Ohio state champ, Sonny Marchette.  After Eric Greshko’s fall at 152, Easton’s lead stood at 29-10.  What followed was a major decision, two falls and a 6-3 decision at heavyweight.  The score stood at 29-29, and Walsh Jesuit won the match on criteria.  Many of the bouts were close, and Blair Academy was very impressive in defeating Nazareth 37-7 and certainly made their case as the #1 team in the nation.  Lastly, in a very tightly contested match, Northampton nipped Liberty 23-22.  Three bouts were decided in overtime, and another three bouts were decided by two or fewer points.  Rick Umstead’s and John Hard’s decisions over the D’Amico brothers rallied the Kids for the win.  It was again another exciting day of wrestling

Led by their Seniors, Liberty Nipped Dieruff 25-24 (Photo Courtesy of Liberty HS Yearbook)

On December 13th, there was plenty of league action in both the EPC and Colonial Leagues.  Liberty had lost a one-point dual to Northampton a few days earlier, but won by a 25-24 count over Dieruff.  The Huskies strong middleweights had given them a 24-15 lead with three bouts to go.  In a match with some controversy over stalling calls on both wrestlers per The Morning Call, Nick D’Amico scored a 15-7 major decision to give Liberty the win.   The Colonial League’s top teams all won, but in a wild match that featured 11 of 13 bouts ending in a 6-point result, Catasauqua defeated Palisades 37-33.

Easton, Nazareth and Northampton all made the trip to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio for the 2nd Ironman Invitational at Walsh Jesuit.  The hosts, Blair Academy and Nazareth all advanced eight semi-finalists and were locked in a tight team race.  The final day again saw Blair and Walsh battle for the #1 national ranking with both teams crowning four champs, but Blair placing 13 of 14 wrestlers to win the team title and claim the #1 ranking.  Nazareth had four 2nd place finishers (Chris Vitale, Andy Cote, Rob Rohn and Jarrett Hoff) and 10 place winners overall to finish 3rd.  Easton had the most finalists at 6 with Chris Kelly, Bryan Snyder and Gary Rute claiming titles while Jamarr Billman (by 7-4 decision to Sonny Marchette), Eric Greshko and Kyle Geiger placed 2nd and finished 4th.  Northampton’s Rick Umstead pinned Hoff in the 189 finals, and the Kids placed 8 wrestlers to finish 6th.

Bob Piccione – 1 of 5 P-Burg Holiday Tourney Champs (Photo Courtesy of Phillipsburg HS Yearbook)

Phillipsburg had lost quite a few wrestlers to graduation, but had five champs – Bob Piccone, Tim Moore, John Garriques, Marc DeFrancisco and Jarrett Hosbach to win the Hunterdon-Warren Tournament.  Emmaus’ Mark Steckel won the 145-pound title as Emmaus finished 3rd in the Quakertown tourney.  In non-league duals, Stroudsburg topped both Catasauqua and Saucon Valley while Dieruff won on criteria against Pocono Mountain in a seesaw match 28-28.

In final dual weekend before the holidays, Nazareth visited the 25th Street Gym to face Easton in a battle on the area’s top two teams.  The teams split the first two bouts with Nazareth’s Eric Kelly nipping Willie Saylor 9-7 at 103, and Easton’s Chris Kelly majoring Chuck Kimble 8-0 at 112.  Nazareth’s heavily-favored Chris Vitale took a 5-0 lead over Tom Ferraro at 119 and was looking for more back points when Ferraro pinned him with a reverse cradle to give the Rovers a 10-3 lead.  The Rovers then reeled off four straight wins by Bryan Snyder, Gary Rute, Jamarr Billman and Rich Morris to lead 26-3.  Nazareth won all but one of the remaining bouts, but the lead was too big to overcome, and Easton won 30-23.

Parkland Won their own Dual Tourney (Photo Courtesy of Parkland HS Yearbook)

Stroudsburg continued to show their strength by defeating Wilson 36-19 while Northern Lehigh tripped Pen Argyl 34-33 on Chad Henritzy’s fall at heavyweight in a Colonial League match up.  In the Parkland Duals, the host Trojans went 4-0 on the day as did freshman Jon Trenge at 160 (and stood at 8-0 on the season) to win the dual title.  In the East Penn Duals, host Emmaus got falls from Tad Woodbury and Nate Hamilton in the final two bouts to win the championship 38-24 over Brandywine.  Bethlehem Catholic participated in some early holiday tourney action by traveling to Virginia to finish 3rd in the Halifax Co. Holiday Wrestling Classic.  Gary Olivi and Vince Giordano both won titles.

Holiday Tournaments

Jason Garcia Was 1 of 2 Champs as Phillipsburg Finished 2nd in the Hurricane Classic (Photo Courtesy of Phillipsburg HS Yearbook)

In its 2nd year, the Hurricane Holiday Classic expanded to 22 teams, including #1-ranked Blair Academy and Phillipsburg.  Blair jumped out to a big lead after the first day by advancing nine wrestlers to the semi-finals.  While the Bucs were able to run away with the team title, they were only able to go 1-for-6 in the finals.  Speaking to the strength and balance of the competition, 10 teams claimed individual titles with only Pen Argyl (Brian Burzynski & Scott Kupec), Pocono Mountain (Greg Theony & Jon Conte) and Phillipsburg (Jason Garcia & Marc DeFrancisco) being able to have two titlists.  Hazleton’s Brian Olenek was named the Outstanding Wrestler as he defeated Blair’s Quinn Foster 15-14 at 140.  Phillipsburg finished a solid 2nd place followed by Parkland, Northampton, Pocono Mountain, Liberty, High Point and Pen Argyl; 3rd through 8th places were only separated by 25 points.  In top individual match-ups, Parkland’s Derek Jenkins upset Wilson’s Bryan Klass 15-5 at 130, and Saucon Valley’s Joey Killar topped P-Burg’s John Garriques 9-1 at 160.

Mark Steckel Won the 145-Pound Title in the Christmas City Tourney (Photo Courtesy of Emmaus HS Yearbook)

Across town, Nazareth was absent from the Christmas City tournament due to an overloaded dual schedule.  Emmaus and Stroudsburg moved seven wrestlers into the semi-finals and host Bethlehem Catholic advanced six to set up what appeared to be a three-way battle.  Tri-Valley had been sitting in 4th place, but staged a furious comeback with four finalists and four consy finalists to win the team title by 21 points over Stroudsburg which had one champ (Josh Nordmark at 135).  Bethlehem Catholic was 3rd with Gary Olivi (119) and Ray Stofko (140) winning titles.  Dieruff’s Justin Gottwald led 3 Husky wrestlers to the finals and claimed the 112 title as the Huskies placed 4th.  Emmaus had 4 finalists but only one champ in Mark Steckel at 145 to finish 5th.

Easton advanced five wrestlers to the finals (Willies Saylor, Bryan Snyder, Gary Rute, Jamarr Billman and Rich Morris). Only Saylor was able to claim and individual title but the Rovers will still able to win the Manheim Tourney team title over Canon-McMillan and Shikellamy.

Lehighton had four champions (Luis Lorenzo, Herman Neff, Nate Hawk and Jeff Siglin) to win the Kutztown Invitational team title; Pius X was 4th with two champs (Jared Hildabrandt and Phil Stambaugh).  Wyomissing easily took the Jim Thorpe team title with Palmerton finishing the highest of the local squads at 3rd and had three champs (Nate Hunsicker, Jarod Saas and Dean Hager).  Palisades finished 2nd in the Pearl River tourney with Pete Miller, Anthony Esposito and Andrew Povenski taking titles.  Future NFL player, James Mungro, won the 171-pound title for East Stroudsburg in the Tunkhannock Tourney.

January

In the first week after the holidays, there were several interesting dual meets featured.  In the EPC, Emmaus won the big individual match up when Mark Steckel pinned Ray Stofko at 145, but Bethlehem Catholic won the dual 35-23 on the strength of three pins.  After a series of close duals, Dieruff was unable to hang with Parkland as the Trojans romped to a bigger than expected 39-12 win.  Jeremy Huddle upset Justin Gottwald 7-6 at 119.

In the MVC, Stroudsburg came to the Kid Dome looking for an upset, but the K-Kids had other ideas and won the match decisively 39-16.  Northampton won the first five bouts to lead 21-0. The Mounties were able to close the gap to 30-16, but could get no closer.  In the Colonial League, Wilson easily defeated Catasauqua 47-15 with Bryan Klass scoring a fall over Frank Piff at 130.

Easton Coaches React During Dual Action (Photo Courtesy of Easton HS Yearbook)

On the first weekend of January the 2nd annual Easton-Phillipsburg Duals were held at “The Pit” with #4 ranked Shikellamy and #5 ranked Canon-McMillan visiting to challenge the local teams.  The Rovers easily topped Shikellamy 43-14 and then defeated Canon-McMillan 36-23 as Eric Greshko bumped up to 160 and scored a fall and freshman Mike Rosado bumped up to 171 and scored a fall while trailing 11-1. Phillipsburg rallied with 18 points in the final three bouts to top Shikellamy 36-19 and then used another upper weight rally to reverse a 23-16 deficit to top the Mighty Macs 36-29.

(Photo from Northampton HS Yearbook)

The same day, Parkland and Pocono Mountain tangled in a match that featured many highly competitive bouts.  The Trojans won 31-21 in a match which saw Kevin Rake decision Troy Minarovic 4-3 in OT at 103; Jeremy Huddle edge Greg Theony 3-2 at 119; Jon Conte nip Derek Jenkins 3-1 in OT at 130; and Matt Fulmer top Chris Wynne 7-5 at 135.  Northampton won three matches to again win the Cedar Cliff Duals.  Blair Academy continued their presence in the Valley by defeating Bethlehem Catholic 49-6 with future Dieruff coach Tom Derhammer and Vince Giordano the only winners for the Hawks.

Nazareth won 10 of 13 bouts to top Liberty 41-8; Jarrett Hoff defeated Nick D’Amico 5-3 in OT at 189.  Snow wiped out a number of duals during the balance of the week.  Over the weekend, Nazareth competed in the Virginia Duals while Easton traveled to Reno. The Blue Eagles easily won four matches to take the title including wins over nationally-ranked St. Mark’s and Grundy.  The Red Rovers placed eight wrestlers at Reno to outdistance Walsh Jesuit, Choctaw and Blair Academy and 28 other teams. Jamarr Billman won the 130-pound title while Chris Kelly, Bryan Snyder and Eric Greshko all finished as runner-ups.  Following its RTOC win, Easton moved to the #1 spot in the national rankings; Nazareth retained its #4 slot after its Virginia Duals win.

League duals took center stage during mid-January.  In the MVC, Nazareth hammered Stroudsburg 47-4 while Northampton was locked in a much tighter battle with Pocono Mountain.  The Cardinals led 20-18 after the 145-pound match, but Northampton won all but won bout the rest of the way to win 38-25.

Easton continued to dominate the EPC cruising past Freedom 52-12 while Bethlehem Catholic won a competitive dual against Dieruff 38-27.  In the Colonial League, Bangor remained unbeaten in the league by defeating Wilson 30-21.  The Warriors led 21-6 but Bangor swept the final five bouts.

The annual Nazareth-Northampton dual took place at Liberty on January 20th.  The Blue Eagles won the first three bouts to lead 12-0.  Stan Kish and Keyth Radcliffe both won decisions in OT to pull the Kids within 12-6, but the Kids would get no closer.  Christian Luciano won a 6-5 decision over Shawn McEntire at 160, and Jarret Hoff nipped Rick Umstead 3-2 at 189 in two feature individual match-ups.  Ultimately, Nazareth triumphed 34-15. 

In non-league action, Parkland upended Wilson 40-15; Liberty rallied to beat Pocono Mountain 28-18; and North Schuylkill downed Bangor 38-30.

The following Monday, Northampton was back on the mat facing Phillipsburg in ‘The Pit.’  The match started with a bang as Adam Lutri used a cement job to pin favored Bob Piccione while trailing 7-0.  The teams traded falls and then decisions, and the Kids led 15-9.  Russ Trauger won by default over Keith Radclifffe and the score was 15-15.  The Stateliners won 2 of the next 3 bouts including Toby Wellington’s major decision at 145 to take a 22-18 lead.  Jason Garcia and Marc DeFrancisco won by major decision and fall to give Phillipsburg a close 32-28 victory.

Parkland improved to 15-0 with a 48-8 win over Freedom.  Liberty gave Coach Jody Karam his first win over Tony Iasiello’s Bethlehem Catholic squad 44-13, and Bangor remained unbeaten in the Colonial League 46-18 over Notre Dame.  The next night, things went largely as expected as Parkland chalked up their 16th straight win as they defeated Liberty 35-19.  The final margin was a bit larger than expected as Josh Laub scored a fall over Nick D’Amico while trailing 9-2.

The Trojans unblemished dual meet record was on the line on January 27th at Nazareth, but the Blue Eagles were too much for Parkland.  9 of the 13 bouts were decided by four points or less with Nazareth coming out on top in all but two of those bouts including three in overtime to triumph 42-6.  In the Pat Reilly dual invitational, Easton defeated #6 Liberty 42-12 and #5 Northampton 37-12.

On the final day of January, Nazareth scored another big MVC victory 49-6 over Pocono Mountain with Rob Rohn upending #2 Justin McNicholas 20-8 at 171.  Bangor stayed unbeaten in the Colonial League by defeating Saucon Valley 35-30.

Nazareth Had a Great January (Photo Courtesy of raynunamker.com)

February

February started off with the annual Easton-Phillipsburg dual at Kirby Field House.  The Rovers won close bouts at the first two weights and then picked up speed as they won the next six bouts to take a 34-0 lead.  Mikey Rosado would add a fall via spladle at 160 as Easton won 40-21.  The same night, Northampton dealt Parkland their 2nd loss of the season 35-16.  Adam Lutri (103) and Mike Sommer (135) scored early upsets, but Parkland led 15-13 after Mike Severo’s win at 145.  The Kids won the final five bouts including sophomore Christian Luciano’s 3-1 win over frosh Jon Trenge.

The Kids Defeated Parkland in a Key Non-League Dual (Photo Courtesy of Northampton HS Yearbook)

The first Saturday in February saw a few interesting non-league bouts.  Nazareth led 6-3 after the first three bouts, but Brett Marino’s fall put P-Burg briefly ahead 9-6.  The Blue Eagles then strung together four straight wins by Steve Rohn, Andy Cote, Tony Vitale and Jason Bucchi to lead 19-9.  Nazareth would win 3 of the final 5 bouts to triumph 28-16.  Rob Rohn defeated #1 Jason Garcia 3-2 at 171, and Marc DeFrancisco won his 100th bout 7-1 over Jarrett Hoff.  Northampton lost 4 bouts by 2 points or less as they dropped a 30-21 match with Shikellamy.  #1 ranked 171 pounder Curt Reid bumped up to 189 to face Rick Umstead and lost by fall. 

Emmaus had hopes of upsetting Liberty, but the Hurricanes had other ideas and were in search of their 600th dual win in school history.  Liberty got key wins from Craig Israel (11-8 over Mike Hoosier at 125), Matt Dudeck (2-1 over Cory Kuncio at 140) and Mike Garganta (11-8 over Mark Steckel at 145) to lead 21-12.  Tim Kassis interrupted an Emmaus’ rally, and Liberty went on to win 33-23.  In a match to likely decide 3rd place in the MVC, Stroudsburg’s middle weights staked the Mounties to a 24-18 lead.  Justin McNicholas’ tech fall at 171 pulled the Cardinals within one point, but Frank Gonsalves and Sean Cramer won their bouts to also give Stroudsburg a 33-23 win.

Liberty Won The 600th Dual in School History (Photo Courtesy of Liberty HS Yearbook)

On February 8th, there were several very competitive non-league matches.  Liberty trailed Pleasant Valley 21-15 before Tim Kassis, Chris D’Amico, Nick D’Amico and Nick Kapsalis strung together four straight wins to lead the Hurricanes a 35-21 win.  After Josh Nordmark’s 5-3 win over Tim Sullivan, Stroudsburg still trailed Emmaus 15-12.  The teams traded falls at the next two weights and then decisions at the next two, and Emmaus held a 25-22 lead with three bouts to go.  John Nicholson and Sean Cramer both scored falls, and Stroudsburg had a 34-29 come-from-behind win.  Bangor won 6 of 8 bouts from 119 through 160 to defeat Pocono Mountain by an identical 34-29 score.

Two days later, the 7th District Dual Championships were held at Liberty.

In the AAA quarterfinals, Northampton handily defeated Liberty 45-17, and Parkland had three falls to top Stroudsburg 31-21.  In the semi-finals, Easton won the first six bouts, including falls by Tom Ferraro of Jeremy Huddle at 119 and Jamarr Billman over Derek Jenkins at 130, on their way to a 42-13 win over Parkland.  Nazareth won almost all the close bouts and saw Jarret Hoff down Rick Umstead 7-2 and Matt Kleinle decision John Hard 9-4 as they beat the Kids 36-6.

Jamarr Billman Won his Bout Against Nazareth, but the Blue Eagles Won 26-25 (Photo Courtesy of Easton HS Yearbook)

In the finals, Easton was looking to repeat its 30-23 regular season win over Nazareth and hold their #1 national ranking.  The Rovers again started quickly building a 19-3 lead after seven bouts.  Rich Morris led 1-0 with only 10 seconds to go, but Tony Vitale reversed him and their prior result to win 2-1.  After Jason Bucchi’s 3-2 win at 145, the lead was down to 19-9.  Eric Greshko’s fall opened the lead back up to 25-9, but the Blue Eagles were heavily favored in the last four bouts.  Shawn McEntire (by decision), Rob Rohn (by fall), Jarrett Hoff (by major decision) and Matt Kleinle (by major decision) all won their bouts and tallied 17 team points to give Nazareth the title 26-25.

In AA, Wilson was seeded #5 coming in but they proceeded to reel off three straight wins to shock the competition and win the AA Dual Title.  In the quarters, Wilson won just 6 of 13 bouts, but scored nine bonus points to defeat Bethlehem Catholic 27-25.  Pine Grove had three falls and a technical fall to defeat Notre Dame 36-20.  In the semi-finals, Wilson scored three falls, a major decision, a regular decision and technical fall from 112-140 on their way to upsetting #1 seeded North Schuylkill 33-26.  #2-seeded Tri-Valley dominated the middle weights and won the final two bouts to edge Pine Grove 36-24.  In the finals, Wilson won 3 of the first 4 bouts to lead 12-5.  Tri-Valley’s Josh Miller nipped Bryan Klass 9-8 at 130 before Daryl Keesler and Chris Poff both scored bonus point wins for the Warriors to extend the lead to 21-8.  Tri-Valley won 3 of the next 4 bouts to cut the lead to 24-20, but Tom Young’s first period pin at 189 clinched the match for the Warriors who won 30-26. 

Freedom Topped Liberty on Criteria (Photo Courtesy of Freedom HS Yearbook)

A few nights later, Bangor clinched the Colonial League title by beating Pen Argyl 46-21; it was the Slaters’ first team title ever!  On Valentine’s Day, in an anti-climactic match, Easton won the East Penn Conference title by doubling up Parkland 30-15.  In the inter-city rivalry matches, Freedom defeated Liberty 31-31 by criteria as Rich Koehler defeated Nick D’Amico at heavyweight 4-1, and Dieruff had too much fire power for Allen and won 37-23.

Phillipsburg cruised to the finals of the NJSIAA Section 2, Group 3 championship but then had to rally to defeat Warren Hills 37-27 to win the dual title.  The Stateliners then beat High Point 35-21 and Brick Township 42-15 to win its 9th NJ Group 3 championship.

Final League standings were as follows:

 PlaceW-L
East Penn
Easton19-0
Parkland28-1
Bethlehem Catholic3T6-3
Liberty3T6-3
Emmaus55-4
Dieruff64-5
Freedom73-6
William Allen82-7
Allentown Central Catholic91-8
Whitehall100-9
Colonial
Bangor111-0
Wilson210-1
Catasauqua3T8-3
Notre Dame3T8-3
Palisades5T6-5
Pen Argyl5T6-5
Saucon Valley5T6-5
Northern Lehigh8T4-7
Palmerton8T4-7
Southern Lehigh102-9
Salisbury111-10
Northwestern120-11
Mountain Valley
Nazareth16-0
Northampton25-1
Stroudsburg34-2
Pocono Mountain43-3
Pleasant Valley52-4
Lehighton61-5
East Stroudsburg70-6

League champions overall records were:  Easton (15-2), Bangor (16-5) and Nazareth (20-3).  Other teams with very good records were Parkland (19-4), Phillipsburg (18-2), Stroudsburg (18-3), Wilson (16-5), Northampton (13-7), Palisades (12-6), Liberty (12-7) and Pleasant Valley (11-6).

In the Junior High Tourney, Northampton almost doubled up Easton to win the team title with names like Suranofsky, Bucko, Lisa, Rohn, Swankoski, Bauer and Hard providing a sneak peak of years to come for the Kids.

Districts

In AAA, Nazareth took the early lead in the expected battle with Easton for the team title.  The Blue Eagles had 11 semi-finalists to 7 for the Rovers.  At 145, #1 seed Nick Morris from Easton was sent to the consolations as #9 seed Brian Ware from Northampton hit a cement job to pin Morris in what was an otherwise challenging set of early rounds for the Kids.  Parkland and Stroudsburg had five each in the semi’s.  The Rovers would go 7-for-7 in the semi’s while Nazareth was 6-for-11 to tighten up the team race. 

While Easton’s semi-final performance was not surprising, what happened in the finals was truly extraordinary.  Easton’s 1981 undefeated dual team with a senior-laden seven state qualifiers was dubbed “The Magnificent Seven.”  And on a late February evening in 1996, the Rovers reinvented “The Seven” again.  The first three titlists won by close scores as Willie Saylor edged Nazareth’s Eric Kelly 8-6 at 103 while Chris Kelly (112) and Gary Rute (119) nipped Pocono Mountain teammate’s Greg Theony and Jon Conte by identical 3-2 scores.  From there the pace and excitement just accelerated.  Bryan Snyder scored a fall at 125 followed by Jamarr Billman’s major decision at 130; Rich Morris’ fall at 135 and Eric Greshko’s 1st period fall at 140.  The 1996 version of The Magnificent Seven had just crowned 7 District Champs in the first 7 weights and built an insurmountable lead to win the team title!  Nazareth and Northampton dominated the action the rest of the way with the Blue Eagles winning four of the titles – Jason Bucchi (145), Rob Rohn (160), Jarrett Hoff (171) and Matt Kleinle (Hwt) – while Northampton won the other two – Christian Luciano (152) and Rick Umstead (189).  Easton swept the awards as Steve Powell was named Coach of the Year; Jamarr Billman was OW; and Eric Greshko won the Pinner Award.

1996 District Champs
Front Row – Willie Saylor, Chris Kelly, Gary Rute, Bryan Snyder, Jamarr Billman, Rich Morris & Eric Greshko (all of Easton)
Back Row – Jason Bucchi, Christian Luciano, Rob Rohn, Jarrett Hoff, Rick Umstead, Matt Kleinle (4 Nazareth, 2 Northampton)

After Day 1 in AA, North Schuylkill and Tri-Valley each advanced six wrestlers to the semi-finals and were tied for the lead.  Pine Grove, Pen Argyl and Wilson followed.  North Schuylkill went on to win their 2nd straight title by 11.5 points with two champs and seven regional qualifiers.  2nd through 4th places were only separated by 7.5 points as Pine Grove, Bethlehem Catholic and Tri-Valley all had strong performances.  Wilson finished 5th

For the champion Spartans, Pet Kroshefskie (135) and Rick Bolinsky (Hwt) won individual titles.  Their 3rd finalist, Kevin Rentschler had pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament in the 152-pound semi-finals by knocking off undefeated Joey Killar 9-5.  In the finals, Rentschler dropped a 2-1 decision to Pine Grove’s Rob Anspach. 

Pen Argyl crowned 2 champs in Brian Burzynski who won a 2-1 decision at 103 and Chris Savitz at 145.  Bethlehem Catholic had two wrestlers claim their 2nd titles as Gary Olivi won by fall at 112 and Ray Stofko won by default over Pine Grove’s Ryan Fasnacht at 140.  Cory DeBias of Northern Lehigh denied the Hawks a 3rd titlist by downing Vince Giordano 2-1 at 119.

Wilson’s Bryan Klass defeated Catasauqua’s Frank Piff 5-3 at 130.  Other winners included Tri-Valley’s Josh Miller (125), Panther Valley’s Brandon McKee (160), Mahanoy Area’s Jim Weidle (171) and Pius X’s Phil Stambaugh (189).

Andy Urbine Won the Regional Title at 152 (Photo Courtesy of Allentown CC Yearbook)

Regionals

As they had done the prior week, Nazareth again took an early lead on Easton heading into the semi-finals with 9 winners to the Rovers’ 7.  Dieruff’s Justin Gottwald (112) and Nazareth’s Shawn McEntire (152) were both 4th place District finishers who upset regional champs from other districts.  Gottwald continued his winning streak by upending Greg Theony in the semi-finals, but McEntire fell to Central Catholic’s Andy Urbine.  Easton was able to advance 6 wrestlers to the finals with only Chris Kelly dropping into the consolations.  Nazareth was still in the hunt as they advanced 5 wrestlers to the finals.

Rick Umstead (Photo Courtesy of Northampton HS Yearbook)

Willie Saylor again got the Rovers started by repeating his win over Eric Kelly, but Nazareth’s Chris Vitale beat Gottwald 4-2.  Pocono Mountain’s Jon Conte reversed the result against Gary Rute before Bryan Snyder and Jamarr Billman won two more titles for the Rovers.  Rich Morris and Eric Greshko lost their bouts to Hazleton’s Brian Olenak and Shikellamy’s Jim Pope, respectively. 

Brian Ware (Photo Courtesy of Northampton HS Yearbook)

At 145, Northampton’s Brian Ware pulled off a big upset by first pinning Nazareth’s Jason Bucchi in the semi-finals and then pinning Wilkes Barre Coughlin’s Jamie Sperraazza in the finals.  Andy Urbine defeated Christian Luciano by forfeit at 152.  Rob Rohn gave Nazareth their 2nd title of the night at 160 as did Curt Reid for Shikellamy at 171.  Northampton wrestlers’ Rick Umstead and John Hard claimed titles in the last two weights. 

The team scores had Easton (119), Nazareth (107), Northampton (85.5), Shikellamy (70) and Pocono Mountain (60) as the top five finishers.

In AA, District XI advanced 41 of a possible 52 wrestlers in the semi-finals as they dominated District I.  In the finals, it was a clean sweep for District XI wrestlers who won all 13 titles, but only 9 District champs were able to win regional titles.  The first five weights saw the District titles also claim regional titles as Brian Burzynski (Pen Argyl), Gary Olivi (Becahi), Cory DeBias (No. Lehigh), Josh Miller (Tri-Valley) and Bryan Klass (Wilson) all triumphed for the 2nd week in a row.  At 135, Pen Argyl’s Scott Kupec topped North Schuylkill’s Pete Kroshefskie 6-4 in the semi-finals and then topped Notre Dame’s Tony Calantoni in the finals.  At 140, Ray Stofko and Ryan Fasnacht both made the finals again, but Stofko won by forfeit as Fasnacht was still not 100% from an injured knee.

Salisbury’s Jason Moyer Was a Southeast Regional Champ (Photo Courtesy of Salisbury HS Yearbook)

Salisbury’s Jason Moyer won the 145-pound title while Saucon Valley’s Joey Killar gained revenge by knocking off Kevin Rentschler 9-2 at 152.  The final four weights saw two repeat winners – Jim Weidle at 171 and Rick Bolinsky at heavyweight – and two new winners – Becahi’s Art Mattes at 160 and North Schuylkill’s Todd Reismiller at 189.  North Schuylkill outdistanced Bethlehem Catholic 88-80 to win the team title.

PIAA States

In AAA first round action, 14 District XI wrestlers won their bouts including five each from Easton and Nazareth.  The quarterfinals were not kind to the local wrestlers as only six were able to reach the semi-finals in Easton’s Willie Saylor, Bryan Snyder and Jamarr Billman along with Nazareth’s Andy Cote and Rob Rohn and Northampton’s Rick Umstead.  Easton was battling Erie Prep in the team race and would see both Snyder and Billman face off in head-to-head matchups with Erie Prep wrestlers. 

In the semi-finals, only Cote, Billman and Rohn (by fall) were able to advance to the finals.  Snyder lost on a tiebreaker.  In the finals, Jamarr Billman defeated Andy Cote for the 3rd week in a row – this time by an 11-4 score, and Rob Rohn dropped a 10-4 decision at 160.  Easton and Nazareth again finished 1st and 2nd in the team race.  In addition, to champion Billman, the Rovers placed Willie Saylor (4th-103), Bryan Snyder (5th-125), Rich Morris (3rd-135) and Eric Greshko (4th-140).  For the Blue Eagles, in addition to their two runner-ups, Jarret Hoff was 4th at 171 and Eric Kelly (103) and Chris Vitale (112) both placed 5th

Kids’ Soph Christian Luciano Finished 4th in States (Photo Courtesy of Northampton HS Yearbook)

Other place winners from District XI included Northampton’s Rick Umstead (3rd-189) and Christian Luciano (4th-152) and Freedom’s Rich Koehler (5th-Hwt).  Easton’s Steve Powell was named Coach of the Year.

Sixteen District XI wrestlers were able to advance to the quarterfinals in AA action including three from Pen Argyl.  Gold medal contenders Gary Olivi from Bethlehem Catholic and Bryan Klass from Wilson lost their bouts in the semi and quarterfinals, respectively.  District XI was able to advance five wrestlers to the finals in Tri-Valley’s Josh Miller (125), Becahi’s Ray Stofko (140), Saucon Valley’s Joey Killar (152), Mahanoy Area’s Jim Weidle (171) and North Schuylkill’s Rick Bolinsky (Hwt).

KIllar defeated Montoursville’s Rick Rodarmel 7-6 with a takedown with nine seconds left.  Killar was name the OW for winning the tourney’s toughest weight class.  Weidle and Bolinsky both won decisions to give District XI three state champs while Miller and Stofko both lost close decisions to finish with silver medals. 

Phil Stambaugh was 1 of 4 – 4th Place Finishers from District XI in AA (Photo Courtesy of Pius X HS Yearbook)

Fourth place finishers from District XI included Becahi’s Gary Olivi (112), North Schuykill’s Kevin Rentschler (152), Pius X’s Phil Stambaugh (189) and Notre Dame’s Anthony Morici (Hwt).   Chad Harner of Tri-Valley was 3rd at 112 while North Schuylkill’s Pete Kroshefskie was 5th at 135 as was Pine Grove’s Rob Anspach at 152.  In the team race, North Schuylkill was 3rd, Tri-Valley was 4th and Bethlehem Catholic was 6th.

Phillipsburg Post Season

Phillipsburg advanced all 14 of their wrestlers to the NJ District 1 semi-finals.  The Stateliners ran away with the team title by advancing 13 wrestlers to regionals and crowning 8 champions – Bob Piccione (103), Brett Marino (125), Toby Wellington (140), Brian Grace (145), John Garriques (152), Jason Garcia (171), Marc DeFrancisco (189) and Jason Pierce (Hwt).

Terrell Johnson Had one of the Biggest Upsets of the NJ Post-Season (Photo Courtesy of Phillipsburg HS Yearbook)

The Stateliners’ strong performance continued into the regional round as they advanced nine wrestlers to the semi-finals.  They then advanced eight wrestlers to the state championships, including crowning two champions.  Terrell Johnson upset defending state champion, Matt Tresslar 11-8 at 112 while Marc DeFrancisco won his 3rd title at 189.

Phillipsburg had a stellar performance in the NJ state championships under first year Coach Mike Rossetti, who was named Coach of the Year.  They advanced four wrestlers to the semi-finals.  Tim Moore won the 130-pound title by an 8-6 decision and Marc DeFrancisco won 6-3 at 189.  In addition, Terrell Johnson finished 4th at 112; John Garriques was 6th at 152 and Jason Garcia was 3rd at 171. 

The Easton Lions Classic was held on March 14th, and the PA Team triumphed 33-12.  State champ Joey Killar pinned National Pep School Champ, Nick Almedia from Blair Academy to win the Outstanding Wrestler award.  In the preliminary matchup of midget team all-stars, PA won 33-25 and was led by future high school stars – Tim McGoldrick, Jeremy Hartrum, Christian Franco, Dan Brown, Jeremy Bucko, Gino Fortobuono, Jared Drosnock and Tommy Rohn while Matt and Andy Ciasulli competed for the New Jersey squad.

In the Challenge of Champions, the AAA team defeated the AA team 30-20.  Nazareth’s Eric Kelly won at 103 while Saucon Valley’s Joey Killar decisioned Central Catholic’s Andy Urbine 8-1 at 152.  Notre Dame’s Anthony Morici competed at heavyweight for AA but lost his match.

Only Nazareth’s Eric Kelly competed in the Dapper Dan Tournament and he lost by decision.  Team USA dominated the dual and won 38-12.