Easton had dominated the East Penn Conference the past few years but were hit extremely hard by graduation. How do you recover from losing three state champions (Chris Kelly, Bryan Snyder and Jamarr Billman) and 2 regional champions (Willie Saylor and Gary Rute)? Steve Powell’s cupboard was far from bare as some talented freshmen joined the returnees. Parkland and Liberty were favored to supplant the Rovers for the top spot. Parkland did lose a state runner-up and a district champ, but returned eight starters including Derek Jenkins and Jon Trenge. Liberty returned nine starters including five district place winners. Freedom and Whitehall were both expected to improve.
In the Colonial League, Northern Lehigh was the strong favorite to win the league title and possibly sweep through the AA post season as well. The Bulldogs returned state runner-ups Cory DeBias and Keith Blose along with Josh Herzog, Steve Hluschak and four other starters. Defending champ, Wilson, lost state champ Bryan Klass and three other regional place winners, but still returned eight starters as did Saucon Valley who was expected to battle the Warriors for 2nd place. Five of the twelve teams had coaching changes.
Northampton returned ten starters including state place winners Christian Luciano and John Hard and were considered the prohibitive favorite to repeat in the Mountain Valley Conference. Nazareth had 34-year head coach Ray Nunamaker retire and graduated state champs Dave Cote and Rob Rohn along with 2nd and 3rd place state placers (Chris Vitale and Jarrett Hoff). New coach Rex Lutz had six starters back in what was expected to be a rebuilding year.
While both the EPC and MVC would wrestle full schedules and crown league champions, the leagues also agreed to a coalition with three divisions based upon competitiveness. As a result of the coalition, the District Duals were also expanded from six to eight teams in both AAA and AA. Sub-divisions within the coalition were as follows:
|Division 1||Division 2||Division 3|
|Liberty||Dieruff||Allentown Central Catholic|
November / December
The season began on November 28th with the Brandywine (Bullet) Invitational which was won for the 2nd year in a row by Northern Lehigh over host Brandywine. The Bulldogs again had three champs – Steve Hluschak (119), Cory DeBias (140) and Keith Blose (145) who all repeated their titles from the prior year. Liberty had four champions – Omar Rivera (103), Mario Stuart (112), Brad Washburn (135) and Chris D’Amico (275) – to easily win the team title.
On December 6th the big news out of Orefield was that Parkland, the area’s #1-ranked team, upset Blair Academy, who had been ranked #1 in the nation at the end of the ’96-’97 season. The Trojans started strong as James Allen , Frank Vega and Tom Abraham opened with wins for a 13-0 lead. Andy Kuncio upset Jody Giurcich at 130 and Jeremy Huddle had a fall at 135, but the Bucs countered with three straight wins. Still Parkland led 22-13 with Derek Jenkins, Paul Velekei and Jon Trenge waiting in the wings. All three won and Parkland broke Blair Academy’s 87-meet dual win streak with a 35-22 victory.
The same day Easton handled Methacton 55-12, and Northampton topped Shamokin 46-13 in non-league bouts. Saucon Valley won the Souderton Tourney as Charlie Townsend (135) , Mike Belkowski (171) and Jason Fluck (Hwt) won titles.
In the Colonial League, Southern Lehigh’s Pat Kugler scored a fall in the final bout as the Spartans defeated Palisades 33-30. Northern Lehigh moved to 3-0 by routing Catasauqua 60-12.
On December 11th, Wilson won the final two bouts to edge Freedom 31-28. Two days later, Easton won the battle of the rebuilding teams by rolling over Nazareth 40-12. Coach Steve Powell had won his 200th career dual earlier in the week and saw his talented underclassmen set the tone early. Andy Ciasulli, Gino Fortebuono, Jake Giamoni and Dave Brown all won their bouts as Easton won 10 of 13 total bouts.
Parkland and Liberty were the only local teams to travel to Ohio for the Ironman Tourney. The Trojans’ Derek Jenkins won the 145-pound title while Jon Trenge was 2nd at 189 and six others placed as Parkland finished 4th. Liberty was 6th on the strength of Chris D’Amico’s win at 275, Brad Washburn’s runner-up finish at 135 and three additional place winners.
December 17th was a key date for duals in both the East Penn and Colonial Leagues. Liberty won five of the first six bouts to lead Parkland 18-3. The Trojans then strung together wins from Sean and Derek Jenkins, Nick Wynne, Kurt Pryor, Paul Velekei (who upset Brandon Mihalko 12-9) and Jon Trenge on their way to a thrilling 26-21 victory. Freedom beat Bethlehem Catholic 49-18 while Dieruff topped Allentown Central Catholic 35-27. In the Colonial League’s featured match, Saucon Valley led early in part due to Dave Stauffer’s 6-4 win over Steve Hluschak at 125, but Northern Lehigh rallied through the middle weights The Bulldogs’ Duane Lucien was trailing favored Josh Weaver 6-2. Weaver was riding with legs when Lucien grabbed his head and scored a defensive fall for a huge upset at 160. Northern Lehigh went on to win 36-27.
Below: On the left, Duane Lucien being ridden in crab ride by Josh Weaver and on the right, scoring the fall that was the key to the win (Photos Courtesy of Cory DeBias)
Northwestern surprised Southern Lehigh 35-31. In a non-league bout, Pocono Mountain remained unbeaten by defeating North Schuylkill 33-27.
On the weekend before Christmas, the Delaware Mid-Atlantic Tournament, now known as “The Beast of the East” was contested with Easton, Northampton, Parkland and Phillipsburg competing. The K-Kids were back in the mix for a very high national ranking after finishing 2nd to Blair Academy. Christian Luciano won the 171-pound title while Tommy Rohn (135) and John Hard (215) were 2nd and seven other Kids placed. Parkland’s Derek Jenkins (152) and Jon Trenge (189) both won titles as the Trojans finished 9th. Easton frosh Gino Fortebuono was 2nd at 112 to lead Easton who had five other place winners. Bethlehem Catholic placed 2nd in the Virginia Holiday Wrestling Classic as Matt Millen (130) won a title and three Hawks finished as runner-ups.
Northampton and Phillipsburg remained in Delaware and each won two matches in the Delaware Duals. Northampton was sure to move up in the national rankings after hammering #6 Temecula Valley, Cal 56-10. One day later, Liberty beat Nazareth for the first time in eleven years 38-18. The Hurricanes had a balanced effort including falls by Omar Rivera (103), Mario Stuart (112), Aziz Attieh (160) and Brandon Mihalko (189).
Northampton had pulled within eight points of Blair Academy after the semi-finals in the Hurricane Classic. Ultimately, Blair pulled away to defend their title and Christian Luciano scored a fall for the Kids at 171 in the finals to clinch 2nd place in the team race and win both the OW and Pinner awards. Tommy Rohn (135) also was crowned champion. Other local wrestlers to win titles were Pen Argyl’s Robert Rebmann (103) and Liberty’s Mario Stuart (112) who both went into overtime.
Northern Lehigh easily won the Christmas City team title as they crowned five champions – Kyle DeBias (103), Steve Hluschak (125), Josh Herzog (130), Cory DeBias (140) and Keith Blose (145). Bald Eagle Area outdistanced Easton and Parkland in the Manheim Tourney breaking the Rovers’ string of three straight team titles. Mike Rosado (160) and Chris Jones (171) won titles for the Rovers who also had three runner-ups. Parkland’s Derek Jenkins was 1st at 152 but Jon Trenge lost by DQ to Cumberland Valley’s Jon Sauve for an illegal hold in a highly anticipated match.
Easton again traveled west for the Reno Tournament of Champions. The Rovers placed 6th as Choctaw Oklahoma won the team title in a very competitive race. Easton placers included Gino Fortebuono (6th-119), Tom Ferraro (2nd-140), Tim Stocker (5th-152) and Chris Jones (2nd-171).
Despite being banged up with injuries, Northampton dominated the Cedar Cliff Duals as they won the crown for the 7th year in a row by cruising past Dallastown 42-15 in the finals. Liberty defeated Pleasant Valley 35-28 victory as the Bears suffered their first loss. Bethlehem Catholic nipped Dieruff 33-30 in the EPC while Saucon Valley clipped Bangor 44-18 in the Colonial League.
The same day, Nazareth honored former Coach Ray Nunamaker by renaming the gymnasium after the retired coach. The Nazareth team also responded by defeating Shikellamy 32-25.
More big duals followed in the MVC and the Colonial League in January 7th. Northampton, now ranked #4 in the country, defeated an improved Pleasant Valley squad 44-12. In a battle of unbeaten teams in the Colonial League, Northern Lehigh won what was likely their final big test by winning 8 of 13 bouts to beat Wilson 34-18.
On January 10th, Northampton passed another test with a methodical 36-20 win over Phillipsburg. Nazareth again traveled to Virginia for the Virginia Duals and placed 4th. Dieruff edged Saucon Valley 28-25. Visiting Souderton defeated Southern Lehigh 37-29 in the finals of the Whitehall Duals.
The following week, Pleasant Valley improved to 9-2 by handling Freedom 45-15 by scoring four falls.
On January 14th, in a match that was tightly contested early, Liberty led 15-9 after Brad Washburn’s 8-5 win over A.J. Tanzella at 135. Easton won five of the next six bouts including falls by Tom Ferraro, Kit Gibson, Chris Jones and Kevin Kolbe to pull away 36-24 to remain unbeaten. Northampton defeated Pocono Mountain 52-15 in the MVC on the strength of seven falls. In the Colonial League, Bangor beat Southern Lehigh 30-25; Pen Argyl defeated Catasauqua 38-31; and Northern Lehigh remained unbeaten beat downing Notre Dame 52-12.
In mid-January, the league races shaped up as follows:
- EPC – Parkland (7-0), Easton (5-0), Freedom (4-1)
- MVC – Northampton (3-0), Nazareth (2-0), Pleasant Valley (2-1), Pocono Mountain (1-1)
- Colonial – Northern Lehigh (5-0); Bangor, Pen Argyl, Saucon Valley & Wilson (all 4-1)
On January 17th, the Easton-P-Burg Duals were on tap, and it was a big weekend for St. Edward’s Ohio. St. Ed’s had defeated Blair Academy 31-22 the prior evening and cruised past Easton 44-12 and Phillipsburg 42-24 (despite forfeiting two bouts). Bald Eagle Area arrived with the #1 ranking in PA and #3 ranking in the country. St. Ed’s also whipped them 47-7. While they did top Phillipsburg 44-7, the Eagles found themselves in quite a battle with Easton. The Rovers jumped out to a 12-0 lead after three bouts before Bald Eagle roared back to take a 13-12 lead. Tom Ferraro scored a fall for the Rovers, but Bald Eagle Area again answered back to lead 22-18 and 28-21. Chris Jones won a 10-5 decision at 189 and then John Piergallini scored a 2nd period fall at heavyweight to give the Rovers a huge 30-28 victory.
The same day, Northampton moved to 13-0 and positioned themselves to win the MVC title by easily defeating Nazareth 38-13. The Konkrete Kids won 9 of 13 bouts including 3 falls and several close wins in key bouts. Adam Lutri, recovering from an injury, scored a fall in his debut at 112 while Tommy Rohn nipped Travis Frick 5-4 at 135, and John Hard defeated Steve Itterly 3-1 in overtime at heavyweight.
Pine Grove defeated Wilson 29-20 in a competitive match up of AA schools. Saucon Valley was too much for Lehighton 41-24; Freedom beat Stroudsburg 37-26; Liberty rallied to defeat Pocono Mountain 35-22; and Parkland’s upper weights helped the Trojans top Methacton 34-27.
The next week, Freedom jumped out to a 25-6 lead over Dieruff, but the Huskies rallied winning the final four bouts and scoring big bonus points to tie the match at 25-25, but the Patriots won on criteria. In the Colonial League, Pen Argyl’s lightweights paced the Green Knights to a 34-28 win over Notre Dame; Wilson crushed Southern Lehigh 52-12; and Northern Lehigh continued to display their strength by defeating Bangor 53-9. In the MVC, Nazareth pulled away from Pleasant Valley to win 31-22.
One day later, Nazareth traveled to Wilson who had not beaten the Blue Eagles since the 1970-71 season. The Warriors would come oh so close, but Travis Frick’s fall at 135 along with Steve Itterly’s major decision at heavyweight would prove to be the keys in a 26-25 win for the Blue Eagles.
On January 24th, it was Easton at Northampton in a battle of the area’s two top-rated teams. The Kids and Rovers alternated wins in the first six bouts. Jeremy Bucko (7-6 over Andy Ciasulli), Seth Lisa (4-1 over Justin Kast) and Tommy Rohn (12-5 over Bobby Pearly) won the odd bouts while Gino Fortebuono (14-9 over Adam Lutri), Jake Giamoni (5-4 over Josh Schmalzer) and A.J. Tanzella (6-3 over Justin Haupt). Tom Ferraro and Kit Gibson both scored falls to give the Rovers a 21-9 lead. After the teams traded decisions in the next two bouts and Easton led 24-12 with three bouts to go. Christian Luciano scored a fall and then Phil Hard edged Chris Jones 3-1 and John Hard defeated John Piergallini 7-2. The score ended at 24-24, but Northampton had won seven bouts and won on criteria.
The same day, Phillipsburg easily defeated Nazareth 46-12; Dieruff clipped Stroudsburg 34-23; Northern Lehigh defeated Pen Argyl 52-10; and Saucon Valley beat Freedom 46-15.
The following Wednesday, Parkland used pins by Frank Vega over Adam Lutri at 112; Jeremy Huddle over Tommy Rohn by countering a cement job at 130; and Derek Jenkins at 145 to match Northampton 18-18. After Kurt Pryor decisioned Eric Swanskoski at 152, but the Kids immediately countered as John Bauer beat Paul Velekei 9-7 in overtime. After Christian Luciano scored a fall at 171, and Jon Trenge pinned Phil Hard at 189, the score was tied again at 27-27. John Hard’s fall over Leigh Steele gave the Kids a hard-fought 33-27 win.
Liberty clipped Dieruff 34-24 in a competitive EPC match, and Wilson beat Bangor 45-21 in the Colonial League.
Phillipsburg had not beaten Easton in ten years, and the Rovers were a slight favorite to win this year’s match. However, the Stateliners had other ideas. Easton won the first two bouts to lead 7-0, but Bill Moore beat Justin Kast in overtime and Terrell Johnson nipped Jake Giamoni 4-2. The teams traded wins in the next four bouts, but Tom Ferraro’s tech fall at 140 allowed Easton to extend their lead to 15-12. The Stateliners won the next four bouts as John McRoberts, Jared Frey (5-3 over Mike Rosado), Aaron Freer (5-3 over Chris Jones in OT), and Steve Kaminsky all won decisions to clinch the match for Phillipsburg 25-19. Nazareth defeated Pocono Mountain 42-22 in the MVC.
On the final day of January, Wilson and Saucon Valley wrestled in a bout that was key in AA District Dual seeding and the Colonial League. Wilson won all the toss-up bouts, and Coach Dave Crowell made a key line-up move as he forfeited to Dave Stauffer and bumped Ryan Grube and Lucas Wolfe up one weight. Grube won a major decision while Wolfe defeated Charlie Townsend 13-12. The Warriors went on to win 38-18. Northampton hammered Shikellamy 60-6 as Christian Luciano scored his 22nd fall of the year to set a new single season Northampton record. He also won his 128th career bout – tying Dennis Liberto for the school record.
Pocono Mountain got an overtime win from Shawn Campbell to nip Freedom 30-28. Parkland hammered Nazareth 52-9.
As the District Duals approached, Parkland and Easton were both undefeated in the league and faced off for the title on February 4th. James Allen got Parkland off to a good start by nipping Andy Ciasulli 4-3. The teams traded decisions in the next two bouts before Jeremy Huddle scored a major decision at 125. A.J. Tanzella nipped Andy Kuncio 5-4 at 130, and the Rovers led 9-7. Sean and Derek Jenkins sandwiched wins around Tom Ferraro’s decision at 140, and the Trojans led 17-12. Once again Easton answered back as Mike Rosado decisioned Kurt Pryor 3-0 only to see Paul Velekei score a 5-4 decision at 160. Parkland led 20-15, but Chris Jones had a fall at 171 which forced John Toggas to bump Jon Trenge up to heavyweight. The move backfired when Easton first-time starter, John Pinto won in overtime at 189. Easton led 24-20 forcing Trenge to score at least a technical fall to give Parkland the win. Trenge came out looking for a fall against John Piergallini but was caught in a lateral drop and trailed 5-0. Trenge came back to win 12-9, but Easton won the match and the league title 24-23 in a thrilling dual meet.
In rivalry bouts, Dieruff beat Allen 55-16; Liberty won all but one bout to top Freedom 53-4; and Whitehall defeated Catasauqua 43-18.
The top four seeds in both AAA and AA won their bouts in the expanded quarterfinals of the District Duals. In AAA, Northampton beat Pottsville 60-3; Easton handled Pocono Mountain 49-9; Parkland defeated Pleasant Valley 40-15; and Liberty beat Nazareth 43-13. In AA, Northern Lehigh dominated Panther Valley 57-6; Pine Grove beat Bethlehem Catholic 55-6; Wilson tripped Tri-Valley 46-17; and Saucon Valley rallied to defeat North Schuylkill 41-24.
In the AAA semi-finals, Northampton and Liberty wrestled a competitive match with the Kids winning 8 bouts to win 32-18. In the other semi-final, Parkland gained revenge against Easton 29-20 which featured a number of rematches and also some new match-ups. Parkland had a number of their wrestlers drop in weight; Derek Jenkins defeated Mike Rosado 5-3 at 152 and Paul Velekei and Jon Trenge both scored falls to clinch the win for the Trojans. In the finals, the teams traded close decisions in 3 of the first 4 bouts. After Tommy Rohn and Justin Haupt won decisions, Northampton led 13-6. Parkland answered back as Sean Jenkins, Kurt Pryor and Derek Jenkins won to give the Trojans a 19-13 lead. John Bauer won a key match over Paul Velekei 9-5, and Christian Luciano added a fall. At that point, it was 22-19 Kids. Jon Trenge scored a major decision over Phil Hard at 189, but John Hard scored a major decision at heavyweight. Northampton won another great dual and the District Dual title 26-23.
In AA, Northern Lehigh’s middleweights scored six wins and 29 team points from 130-160 to top Saucon Valley 38-22. Pine Grove started quick and got falls from Mike Romberger, Paul Frantz and James Schaeffer to upend defending champ, Wilson 33-26. In the finals, Pine Grove hung in there with Northern Lehigh and won six bouts, but bonus points made the difference. At 152, Keith Blose scored a fall for his 100th win, but Pine Grove got a major decision and fall to lead 23-21. Steve Kochmaruk bumped up to 189 and scored a fall while trailing 9-6, and then Matt Newhard, a football player in his first year of varsity wrestling, scored a fall in the final bout as the Bulldogs won 33-23.
Easton rebounded to win the EPC title by defeating Freedom 50-12. For the 3rd time in the ‘90’s, Northampton finished a dual season unbeaten with a 21-0 record as the Kids defeated Liberty 38-13. Pleasant Valley beat Pocono Mountain 42-18 while Nazareth doubled up Freedom 42-21.
Bethlehem Catholic clipped Allentown Central Catholic 32-28 while Pocono Mountain defeated Stroudsburg 33-24.
Final league standings were as follows:
|Allentown Central Catholic||7||3-6|
In the EPC/MVC Coalition, Northampton was 4-0 to win Division 1; Pleasant Valley was 6-0 to win Division 2; and Lehighton was 4-0 to win Division 3.
League champions overall records were: Easton (13-4), Northern Lehigh (19-0) and Northampton (21-0). Other teams with very good records were Pleasant Valley (17-4), Saucon Valley (16-4), Wilson (16-4), Parkland (15-3), Nazareth (14-8), Pocono Mountain (13-6), Liberty (12-4) and Bangor (11-6).
In AAA, Northampton held a 10-point lead over Parkland after Day 1 of the District Tourney. The K-Kids advanced nine wrestlers to the semi-finals while Parkland had seven advancers. Both Northampton and Parkland had solid semi-final rounds, but Parkland held the lead entering the consolation finals and finals. Both teams had great final rounds as the Kids went 6-for-6 and the Trojans went 4-for-5 as the two teams claimed 10 of the 13 champions. As a result, Northampton outdistanced Parkland 223.5 – 203 to win the team title with Don Rohn being named Coach of the Year and Tommy Rohn receiving the Pinner Award.
For the Kids, Christian Luciano won his 3rd District title with a fall at 171. Seth Lisa (1-0 over Jake Giamoni at 119), Tommy Rohn (5-3 over Brad Washburn at 130) and John Hard (6-4 over Mike Moya at 275) won close decisions while Justin Haupt pinned Parkland’s Sean Jenkins at 135 in the only head-to-head match-up between the top two teams. John Bauer decisioned Parkland’s Paul Velekei 8-6 in the semi-finals and the scored a major decision in the finals at 160. For the Trojans, John Trenge scored a fall at 189 and was named Outstanding Wrestler. Jeremy Huddle (130), Derek Jenkins (145) and Kurt Pryor (152) also won titles for Coach John Toggas. Liberty’s Mario Stuart nipped Stroudsburg’s Joey Rivera 3-1 at 103; Easton’s Gino Fortebuono won on a ride out in OT at 112 to extend “The Streak”; and Liberty’s Matt Dudeck also won on a ride out at 140.
In AA, Northern Lehigh also took a 10-point Day 1 lead with five semi-finalists, but both Pine Grove and Wilson advanced six wrestlers and were within striking distance along with Saucon Valley. Southern Lehigh’s Mike Hollowell upset #1-seed Phillip Deeble from Tamaqua at 103. Northern Lehigh pulled away from Pine Grove, Wilson and Saucon Valley to win the team title. The Bulldogs took home all the hardware as Todd Herzog was Coach of the Year, Cory DeBias, who won his 3rd title, was named OW and Keith Blose won the Pinner Award.
Northern Lehigh led all teams with four champions – Steve Hluschak who beat Saucon Valley’s Dave Stauffer 8-3 at 119, Josh Herzog (125), DeBias (135) and Blose (145). Wilson, Pine Grove and Saucon Valley engaged in a great battle for 2nd place with Pine Grove coming out on top with two champs – Justin Daubert (103) and Josh Hewes (160). Wilson crowned three champions – Dana Keesler (140), Matt Kavanaugh (152) and Mark Thatcher (189) while Saucon Valley had two – Mike Beckowski (171) and Jason Fluck (275). Catasauqua’s Jason Haines (112) and Tamaqua’s Jeremy Benza (130) won the final two titles.
In AAA, Easton, Liberty, Northampton and Parkland each advanced five wrestlers into the semi-finals. Parkland had four wrestlers in the finals to Northampton’s three; both the Trojans and Liberty led the Kids entering the consolation finals. However, Northampton went 3-for-3 in both the consolation finals and finals, but the team title still came down to John Hard’s ability to score bonus points in the final bout. Hard pinned Nazareth’s Steve Itterly to left Northampton to a 94-93 victory over Parkland. Tommy Rohn and Christian Luciano also won titles for the Kids. For the Trojans, Sean Jenkins (135), Derek Jenkins and Jon Trenge all won titles, but Emmaus’ Brad Dillon was able to reverse his loss to Jeremy Huddle at 130. Liberty had a great regional performance with four finalists, but only Brandon Mihalko at 152 was able to win in the final round with a thrilling 14-12 win over Nazareth’s Steve Rohn. Stroudsburg’s Joey Rivera also reversed the outcome from the prior week by winning on a ride out over Mario Stuart at 103. Easton’s Gino Fortebuono won the final title for District XI who claimed 26 of 39 state qualifiers.
In AA, it was the final year that District 11 would wrestle against District 1 in the Southeast Regional. In 1999, District 11 was moving to the Northeast Regional to compete with Districts 2 and 4. Once again, only two wrestlers would advance to the state tournament requiring a hybrid of a double elimination format. All four returning Southeast Regional champions advanced to the semi-finals as Northern Lehigh’s Steve Hluschak and Cory DeBias and Pine Grove’s Mike Romberger (125) and Josh Hewes all won. Northern Lehigh, Pine Grove and Wilson each had seven wrestlers still alive as Day 2 began. Wilson crowned three champions to win the team title as Jeremy Hartrum (103), Matt Kavanaugh and Mark Thatcher won their final matches. For runner-up Northern Lehigh, Cory DeBias won his third regional title and Keith Blose also won. Saucon Valley had three champions in Dave Stauffer who gained revenge 10-3 against Steve Hluschak at 119, Mike Beckowski and Jason Fluck. Pine Grove’s Romberger edged Josh Herzog 6-5 to repeat as regional champ at 125 along with Josh Hewes. Pather Valley’s Josh Hunsicker (112), Tamaqua’s Jeremy Benza and Becahi’s Vince Giordano (140) were also crowned champs.
PIAA State Championships
The local AAA grapplers matched AA with 13 wrestlers advancing to the quarterfinals. Eight wrestlers including three from Northampton were able to move into the semi-finals. The locals batted .500 in the semi-finals with both the Kids and Trojans moving two wrestlers into the finals. In the finals, Parkland’s Derek Jenkins had two early takedowns stand up for a 6-4 win at 145. Christian Luciano had three takedowns to win the 171-pound title 7-3. Jon Trenge again faced Cumberland Valley’s Jon Suave and was able to top his rival 3-2 to win at 189. John Hard was able to escape and gain a 3-2 ride out victory at 275. The Kids added a 3rd place finisher in Phil Hard at 189 and 5th place finisher in Seth Lisa at 119 to win the team title. The Trojans finished 4th in the team race. For Liberty, Mario Stuart (103) was 3rd and Chris D’Amico (275) was 5th. Nazareth’s Steve Itterly was 3rd giving District 11 three placers at 275.
Northern Lehigh and Saucon Valley went a collective 7-for-7 to lead 13 District XI wrestlers into the AA quarterfinals. On Day 2, three District XI wrestlers were able to win both of their bouts to advance to the finals – Northern Lehigh’s Cory DeBias and Tri-Valley’s Justin Olano who would meet in the finals at 135 and Pine Grove’s Josh Hewes. Northern Lehigh had a difficult semi-final round going 1-for-4. In the finals, DeBias defeated Olano (for the 4th time of the season) 8-3 to move to win the 135-pound AA crown. Steve Hluschak was 4th at 119 while Josh Herzog (125) and Keith Blose (145) finished 5th as the Bulldogs finished 2nd in the team race behind Reynolds. Pine Grove’s Hewes dropped a decision in the finals at 160 to finish as a runner-up. Other place winners included Wilson’s Dana Keesler (140 – 4th), Saucon Valley’s Mike Beckowski (171 – 3rd) and Wilson’s Mark Thatcher (185 – 5th).
Below: Gallery of Northern Lehigh Photos from State Tourney including Cory DeBias, Keith Blose, Josh Herzog, Steve Hluschak, Coaches Todd Herzog & Ron Heller and Fans (Photos Courtesy of Cory DeBias):
Phillipsburg cruised to the NJ District 1 title as Frank Stillo (112), Steve Fucci (135), Aaron Freer (171) and steve Kempinski (215) won titles. The Stateliners also had seven runner-ups.
In the Region 1 Championships, Russ Trauger (145), Freer and Kempinski were crowned champions
In the NJ state championship, Aaron Freer was nipped 4-3 in overtime and finished 2nd. Steve Kempiniski finished 3rd while John McRoberts (152) was 6th.
The US Team edged to Pennsylvania Team 23-19 in the 24th Dapper Dan Classic. The only local participant was Parkland’s Derek Jenkins who won 5-0. In the Challenge of Champions Class AA nipped Class AAA 22-21. For the winning AA team, Northern Lehigh’s Cory DeBias (135) won a thrilling 16-13 match; teammate Keith Blose won 6-4 at 145; and Saaucon Valley’s Mike Beckowski won 6-4 at 171 as the local wrestlers contributed in a big way to the win. In the Easton Lions Classic, the PA Team easily triumphed over the New Jersey squad 51-12. Northern Lehigh’s Cory DeBias converted an ankle pick for a takedown off the whistle and then locked up a low leg cradble for the quick fall over NJ state champ, John Brienza, in the final bout of the evening. State champs Derek Jenkins, Christian Luciano and John Hard also contributed wins for the victors.
Below: Sequence in DeBias-Brienza match – ankle pick, low leg cradle and the fall (Photos Courtesy of Cory DeBias)
Northampton and Northern Lehigh dominated the local scene during the ’97-’98 season as they went a combined 40-0 winning league and District Duals titles. The Kids went on to win the District, Regional and State AAA titles while the Bulldogs won the District title and finished 2nd in regionals and states. They had a combined three state champs and five more state place winners; Parkland added two more state champs. Both teams had stars but also blue-collar role players who worked hard and prepared. In fact, the two teams trained together at times during the season in what were impressive performances against tough local and state competition which is why our story of the 1997-1998 is titled “Bulldogs Blossom & Kids Triumph Over Trojans.”
More on the Northern Lehigh Bulldogs
I had the pleasure of speaking with Coach Todd Herzog who led the Bulldogs during this magical 19-0 season and state champ, Cory DeBias. The 1997-98 team still stands as the only undefeated season in school history. It was a season that was long in the making for a small school who was only graduating about 160 students each year. Many of the wrestlers in this group wrestled together from their youth program days as they trained together and wrestled in tournaments all over the east coast. In addition, a number of them wrestled at the Talon Wrestling Club as well.
The beef of the lineup was 130-160, anchored by Cory DeBias, Keith “Guppy” Blose and Junior Josh Herzog – a group capable of putting bonus points on the board. Steve Kochmaruk and Lenny Kistler were the only other senior starters while sophomores, Steve Hluschak and Kyle DeBias both had 20+ wins. The team was rounded out by a solid group of underclassmen, who all contributed at various points during the year and several football players had been recruited to man the upper weights. Coach Herzog’s nephews, freshmen, Jared and Justin, were wrestling in the lower weights early in the year. Cory, his brother Kyle, Josh Herzog and Keith Blose worked out together every day.
For the season, the team won the Brandywine Bullet Invitational, Christmas City Tournament, Colonial League, District Duals, District XI, L.V. Officials’ Sportsmanship Award and Times News & Morning Call Team of the Year. In addition, they finished 2nd in the Regionals and States. Ultimately, until this group was done competing, they won a combined 14 district titles and 17 state medals!
“All in the Family” – Todd Herzog also wrestled at Northern Lehigh, but was injured during his high school career, felt that he had unfinished business and put that passion into coaching. Todd began coaching as an assistant to Bob Kern during the 1990-91 season and moved into the head coaching spot during the 1995-96 season. In the stands during the ’90-’91 season was Cory DeBias as he watched Ivan Rosario beat Pine Grove’s J.J. Fashnact in overtime in the state finals after losing to him in both the district and regional finals. Cory said that he wanted to be a state champ after watching Ivan win the title.
Younger brother, Brent, coached the youth team and stayed with the group as they progressed through middle school, competing and sometimes beating the likes of Nazareth and Northampton. Eventually, he moved up to the high school level. Older brother, Bobby, operated more behind the scenes, assisting with scheduling, administrative and paper work. Bobby’s sons, Josh, Jared and Justin all wrestled for the Bulldogs; later Todd’s son, Ty, wrestled for his father. The Herzog’s, Hluschak’s and DeBias’ were collectively in 17 district finals. After eighteen seasons, Todd Herzog retired with a 284-82 dual record, 5 Colonial League crowns, 5 District Dual titles, 6 District Team Titles, 35 individual District Champs and 4 State Champs.
The family connections continued on the college front as well. Kyle DeBias was a four-year starter at Roger Williams University (RWU) in Rhode Island. Cory DeBias transferred to Roger Williams from Rider for his senior season and was a Division III All-American. In 2017, Ty Herzog became a Division III AA at RWU with Kyle DeBias as one of his coaches.