“The Hawks & Tigers Are Golden”
A bit of a disappointing post season had followed a very exciting dual meet season during the prior year. The ’78-’79 season would see teams continuing to wrestle a high quantity and quality of dual meets, including ongoing expansion of the geographic footprint of competition beyond the Lehigh Valley. The pre-season league favorites were Bethlehem Catholic with nine returning starters (EPC), Nazareth (Colonial) and Notre Dame (Centennial). The season would feature another very competitive league battles in all three local leagues with many duals decided by just a few points.
The season opened on November 30th with favored Bethlehem Catholic falling behind Saucon Valley 9-0 and 16-9 before the Hawks got falls from Tom Bold (145) and Ozzie Breiner (Hwt), two decisions and a draw to top the Panthers 28-18. Two days later, Saucon Valley rallied past Freedom 25-21.
On December 7th, defending EPC champ Easton opened their season against Freedom and extended their EPC unbeaten streak to 44 matches. The Rovers and Patriots were deadlocked at 14-14 after six bouts, but Easton won five of the final six bouts including pins from Bob Clause (145) and Dan Kasperkoski (Hwt). Bethlehem Catholic got falls from Tom Bold and Bernie Brown to beat a tough Parkland squad 29-19. In the Centennial League, a loaded Notre Dame team crushed defending co-champion Stroudsburg 48-6.
On December 9th, Bethlehem Catholic and Notre Dame faced off. The Crusaders led 9-7 after Doug Collina upset state champ Rich Santoro 10-7. After four straight draws, Notre Dame led 15-13, but the Hawks upperweights again rallied winning all but one bout including falls by Tom Bold and Bernie Brown to win 33-17.
In the Centennial League, Northwestern got falls from Vince Stravino (112), Greg Stewart (119), Scott Fenstermacher (132) and Jeff Stewart (145) to defeat Pocono Mountain 34-21. Saucon Valley and Wilson fought to a 24-24 tie in a key Colonial League bout. Easton beat Parkland 32-11 in an EPC match.
On December 16th, Easton and Nazareth locked up in their annual match, and the Rovers only dropped only two bouts as they romped 40-12. Four days later, Bethlehem Catholic fell behind Liberty 12-9. Tom Bold (145) and Ozzie Breiner (Hwt) both scored falls to lead the Hawks to a 33-16 win. In a marquee bout, Matt Reiss defeated Bernie Brown 6-3 at 167.
Easton dominated its only holiday tournament with four champions – (John Cuvo, Jeff Lang, Chuck Liederman and Dan Kasperkoski) while Phillipsburg won their tourney with six champions (Rob Rutt, Jim Smith, Frank Stillo, Pat Cummings, Dan Brousseau and Gene Oberly). East Stroudsburg dominated the Wallenpaupack Tournament with four champions (Dan Stoudt, Rich Jacobs, John Fetherman and Lindsay Koberlein).
Rich Santoro won the Christmas’ City tournament’s toughest weight class by avenging his dual loss to Notre Dame’s Doug Collina in the semi’s and then beating Freedom’s Rick Negrete 3-2 in the finals. Tom Bold and Bernie Brown also won titles as the Hawks outpaced Port Jervis to win the team title. Liberty won the Top Hat Tourney as Rich Cabrera, Lou Capuano and Matt Reiss were champions.
Right after the holidays, Notre Dame and Northwestern faced off in a dual that would decide the Centennial League title. The Hawks got falls from Kurt Wentz (98), Vince Stravino (112) and Scott Fenstermacher (132) and led the Crusaders 23-12. Notre Dame roared back to sweep the final five bouts including falls by Bill Siebold (145), John Williams (185) and Karl Warfel (Hwt) to triumph 36-23. At 119, Doug Collina and Greg Stewart battled to a 4-4 draw.
In the EPC, Phillipsburg had Becahi on the ropes as they led 24-11 with only three bouts to go. Bernie Brown (167) and Ozzie Breiner (Hwt) scored falls and Tom Slowey won by decision at 185 as the Hawks passed a key test and won 26-24. Easton downed Liberty 26-18. Matt Reiss moved up to heavyweight, gave away 85 pounds, but tied Dan Kasperkoski 6-6 in a match between District champions.
Nazareth had three tough duals right after the holidays. First, the Blue Eagles scored four falls to defeat Wilson 36-19 in a league match, and then got a fall from Steve Getz in the final bout to top Freedom 25-18. Then on January 11th, they hosted Saucon Valley and were looking to claim their 3rd Colonial League title in a row. The Panthers got early falls from Bill Hershey (98) and Jay Zenz (119) but led by only 22-19 with three bouts to go. Larry Mostek (by fall), Jim LaPorta and Randy Israel won the final three bouts, and the Panthers pulled off the upset 34-19.
Easton had a 30 meet overall win streak and 50 bout unbeaten streak in the EPC when they visited Bethlehem Catholic on January 18th. The match was tied 11-11 at the halfway point, but as they had many times before the Hawks’ upperweights rallied. Becahi won the next five bouts including two falls – Tom Bold and Bernie Brown – and two one point wins to wrap up the match. Dan Kasperkoski nipped Ozzie Breiner 2-0, but the final score was 32-14 in Becahi’s favor. Notre Dame easily defeated Pocono Mountain 32-8 to pretty much wrap up the Centennial League crown.
On January 25th, Southern Lehigh was the surprise undefeated leader in the Colonial League as they hosted Saucon Valley. Coach Charlie Bartolet’s squad dominated the previously unbeaten Spartans 32-10 to pretty much clinch the league title.
Liberty topped Nazareth 34-14 in a non-league match in late January. On February 2rd, the Hurricanes had another tough non-league match-up. Matt Reiss bumped up to 185 and defeated Jim LaPorta 19-8 as the Liberty triumphed 22-20 over Saucon Valley.
On February 8th, Nazareth downed Southern Lehigh 32-19 to clinch 2nd place, and Saucon Valley hammered Palisades 46-6 to win the Colonial League crown. Two days later, Phillipsburg raced out to a huge lead and defeated Liberty 32-18.
On Valentine’s Day, 2,000 fans packed “The Pit” for the annual Phillipsburg-Easton showdown. The Rovers, on the strength of falls by Randy Ascani (112), Brian Liska (126) and Dan Kasperkoski (Hwt) to triumph 31-22.
The regular season wrapped up, and the following league champions were crowned:
East Penn League Champs – Bethlehem Catholic 11-0 (18-0 Overall)
Colonial League Champs – Saucon Valley 7-0-1 (15-2-1 Overall)
Centennial League Champs – Notre Dame 8-0 (14-2 Overall)
The following teams finished with very strong records: Easton 16-1, Phillipsburg 14-2, Liberty 14-3, Northwestern 12-3, Nazareth 12-5 and Parkland 11-5.
Saucon Valley had five champions (Bill Hershey, Ken Stauffer, Jay Zenz, Jim Thatcher & Brian Israel) as they topped Nazareth in the Colonial League Tournament. Notre Dame matched its Centennial League title with a league tourney title as well as they placed 10 wrestlers while Northwestern had three champions and finished 2nd.
The District XI AAA championships featured EIGHT returning champions. Becahi led after the first weekend but Easton had the most semi-finalists with eight to the Hawks’ six. However, on the strength of Rich Santoro’s and Tom Bold’s titles and Bernie Brown’s runner-up finish, Becahi outpaced the Rovers to win the team title. Bold was also won the OW and Pinner awards while Tony Iasiello was Coach of the Year. In addition to the two Hawks, Parkland’s Rich Shoemaker, Liberty’s Lou Capuano & Matt Reiss, Freedom’s Rick Negrete and Easton’s Dan Kasperkoski repeated as champions. However, the eighth returning champ, Abe Atiyeh, was pinned by Nazareth’s Al Haberle in the semi-finals and then DQ’d in the wrestlebacks.
The AA Championships were broken down into an East and West Sectional. Led by Steve Brownmiller, who knocked off the top seed after entering Districts with a 6-6-2 record, Lehighton advanced five wrestlers to the quarterfinals. With eight winners, Blue Mountain had the most wrestlers to advance in the West while Notre Dame advanced nine in the East. The Crusaders then went eight for nine in the quarterfinal round. Coach Dennis Fenton’s squad ran away with the team title and crowned four champions – Dennis Andrews (112), Doug Collina (119), Bill Seibold (145) and Mark Correll (155).
In the AAA Northeast Regionals, Nazareth had four champions – Keith Fairman (126), Jody Werner (132), Robbie Albert (155) and Al Haberle (185) – to lead District XI to a total of nine titlists and 21 state qualifiers. Parkland’s Doug Billig, Becahi’s Rich Santoro & Tom Bold, Liberty’s Matt Reiss and Easton’s Dan Kasperkoski also won.
District XI advanced 23 wrestlers in the AA Southeast Regional tourney and claimed nine titles. Notre Dame and Northwestern each had two champions in Dennis Andrews & Doug Collina and Kurt Wentz & Vince Stravino, respectively while Pius X’s Allan Reto defeated defending state runner-up, Mark Kunkle, of Lehighton for the 2nd straight week.
In the States, six District XI wrestlers advanced to the semi-finals with Doug Billig claiming Parkland’s first state championship ever at 98. Bethlehem Catholic won the team title as Rich Santoro (112) repeated as state champ and Tom Bold (138) scored a fall to win the state title and OW award. Coach Tony Iasiello was named Coach of the Year.
Notre Dame had been one step ahead of Northwestern all year, but the Tigers were on top the final weekend of the wrestling season in the AA State Tourney. Greg Stewart (112) and Scott Fenstermacher (132) won titles while Vince Stravino (105) finished as runner-up for the 2nd straight year. Notre Dame had to settle for one placewinner in Mark Correll’s 3rd place at 155 after an otherwise outstanding season.
The Victory Celebration for the Northwestern Tigers Who Won the State AA Team Title; Coached by Dave Hawk, Kent Donaldson and Coach Hough (Photo Courtesy of Vince Stravino).