Every year at districts, a wrestler or two finally breaks through after years of falling short.
This season in Class 3A, there were seven Wyoming Valley Conference grapplers who picked up their first District 2 title. And with the impressive resumes of these wrestlers, it may seem awfully weird that they didn’t win gold previously.
Start with a pair of Coughlin standouts, Billy Poray and Bobby Hawkins. Poray, a senior, has piled up 124 career wins and had two previous third-place finishes before topping Delaware Valley’s Frankie Carrozza in Saturday night’s 138-pound final. Hawkins is a junior and had taken fifth and third in his first two years while posting 97 career wins. He finally broke through winning first at 126 pounds.
They became the first Coughlin teammates to win district titles in the same year since 2007, doing so on a team that was picked to contend for the Division I title, but struggled due to injuries. Now, the team is sending four to the Class 3A Northeast Regional, as Paul Cole and Pat Pilch also qualified.
“We’ve had a lot of stories this year. Paul Cole (195 pounds) was hurt in the beginning. He came back. He’s in shape now and doing very well,” Hawkins said. “Pat Plich (285), in his first year, he’s going to regionals as a senior. I’m happy for both of them.”
Three Wyoming Valley West athletes finally got their first titles as well, in seniors Alex Tirko (113) and Nathan Cheek (145) and junior Cody Cordes at 160. Tirko’s best finish at districts was fourth last year, while Cheek had two fourths and a third to go with more than 100 career wins. Cordes finished third twice and also picked up his 100th career win earlier this season.
“It’s emotional that’s for sure,” Cheek said. “I’m trying to hold back the tears constantly, but I couldn’t be more happy.”
Dallas’ Connor Martinez and Ryan Monk finally got their coveted district gold. A senior, Martinez was third two years in a row before winning the 170-pound title last weekend. Monk, a junior, took third as a freshman and was runner-up last year at 285.
“Connor is a great guy. I’ll tell you, he is probably the hardest working wrestler I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Monk said. “For me, it felt great to see him go out and win because he’s been waiting a long time, too. And a couple years ago, he should’ve won it. Back in middle school he should’ve won it. Just to see him reach that pinnacle is great.”
A lot of talk was about the toughness of the 132-pound Class 3A bracket in the District 2 Tournament. It caught the attention of just about every fan at the Kingston Armory, and the final between Wyoming Valley West’s Travis Roper and Delaware Valley’s Jalen Palmer was the most watched final because it happened to be the only bout before medals were distributed.
While Palmer won his fourth district title, over in Class 2A in the same weight, Lake-Lehman’s Austin Harry did the same.
“I would’ve loved to be in the Triple-A ‘32 bracket. That would’ve been a great bracket to win,” Harry said. “Congratulations to all those guys. That (the final) was a great match. Congratulations to both guys. They’re both great wrestlers.”
It was a tough match for Roper to lose, but his teammate, Cheek, said he should be proud of his showing in the weight class, which consisted of two state qualifiers, two district runners-up and another regional qualifier prior to the start.
“He’s my best friend. I wanted him to win it so bad and I know that the true Roper is going to show down at regionals and he’s going to win regionals and place at states if not win it,” Cheek said. “I think if I was him I would be happy no matter what I did so it’s up to God and what God gave me that’s what I got.”
Dallas 285-pounder Ryan Monk breezed through his first two district bouts with pins of 20 and 15 seconds. He wasn’t so lucky in his next two matches, going six minutes for a 2-0 win over Coughlin’s Pat Pilch then needing 6:49 to pin West Scranton’s Kamron VanWert in an overtime final.
Twenty-five of Monk’s 37 wins this season are via fall, so he was happy to go a full match twice. He’s the top seed for this weekend’s Northeast Regional Tournament, but he knows he’s not always going to pin opponents early.
“When you get to the Giant Center (PIAA Championships) you’re not going to pin everybody unless you’re (three-time state champ) Chance Marsteller,” Monk said. “Heavyweight is (scores) 3-2, 1-1 going into overtime and you gotta make a decision whether you’re going to win or lose and that’s when you gotta win.”