Last updated: March 02. 2014 11:12PM - 2924 Views
By Dave Rosengrant drosengrant@civitasmedia.com

Dallas' Ryan Monk lets out a yell of triumph as he runs to his coaches after pinning Cody Cooper of Stroudsburg during the 285-pound semifinals of Saturday's Class 3A Northeast Regional Tournament at Liberty High School in Bethlehem on Saturday.
Dallas' Ryan Monk lets out a yell of triumph as he runs to his coaches after pinning Cody Cooper of Stroudsburg during the 285-pound semifinals of Saturday's Class 3A Northeast Regional Tournament at Liberty High School in Bethlehem on Saturday.
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It was just last season that Dallas was slotted as a Class 3A team — and a small Triple-A school, too.

This coming a year after the Mountaineers were an average Class 2A squad in 2012. They were expected to struggle in 3A for a few years, especially going up against District 11 in the Northeast Regional.

But the team led by coach Mike Richards has not missed a beat.

Over the weekend, a pair of Dallas grapplers in Connor Martinez (170 pounds) and Ryan Monk (285) reached the PIAA Championships and helped the team finish in ninth place in the team standings at the Northeast Regional. Dallas was the second team from District 2, with Wyoming Valley West the only other higher-placing team in sixth.

In the 2013 regional, the Mountaineers were 20th.

“We may not always be there team-wise because we don’t have the numbers of some of the bigger schools but individually, I feel like we can compete with anyone,” Richards said “As far as talent, kid-for-kid we can run with just about anyone. We’ll always lose the battle of numbers, but we won’t lose the battle of quality kids.”

That was evident at Liberty High School as all four Mountaineers regional qualifiers made a deep run toward states. In addition to Martinez winning four matches on Saturday in the consolation bracket to take third and Monk winning his bracket, 182-pounder Cole Dixon and 195-pounder Domenic Oliver each went 2-2.

If Dallas was going to compete on the state level, it wasn’t expected to be so soon.

To compare, West Scranton bumped up to 3A in 2007, after winning back-to-back District 2 Duals titles. Just this season, the Invaders are getting back into championship contention. Next season, West Scranton looks to be a very tough team to beat.

Then in 2009, Berwick made the jump back to 3A after two successful years in 2A, winning district duals titles and producing five state qualifiers in those two seasons. The Bulldogs have only qualified for 3A district duals twice since then and haven’t had a state qualifier since 2008.

History repeating?

It was 11 years ago when Nanticoke’s Jason Mitkowski began what may be the most improbable run of any Wyoming Valley Conference wrestler in history when he won a Class 2A Northeast Regional title and continued the success to be Nanticoke’s first state titlist in wrestling.

What made his run remarkable is that he was wrestling after taking a three-year hiatus.

Mitkowski’s name has come up over the last weekend when talking about GAR’s Saul Wilkins. The Grenadiers’ 285-pounder won the Class 2A district and regional title and, like Mitkowski, is wrestling in his first season.

While Mitkowski had previous experience, Wilkins does not. And, unlike Mitkowski, Wilkins is a junior, so after completing the first successful chapter of his high school career this week in Hershey, there can be a sequel in 2015.

For the first time

…In 25 years, Dallas picked up a Class 3A regional champion when Monk claimed the 285-pound title Saturday night. The Mountaineers’ Dominic DeGraba won regional gold in Class 2A in 2012. But the last time it occurred in 3A was by Jerry Ogurkis in 1989.

…In 23 years, Hazleton Area has a freshman reaching the PIAA Championships as 120-pounder Jimmy Hoffman accomplished the feat over the weekend. Hazleton, West Hazleton and Freeland high schools merged to become Hazleton Area High School in 1992.

…In 14 years, Crestwood did not have a state qualifier or District 2 champion. It was perhaps the most significant streak of any school in any sport in the entire district. The stretch started in 2002, when Joe Kemmerer won a regional title.

…In three years, a freshman from the WVC has qualified for states. Hoffman becomes the first ninth-grader from the conference to participate in Hershey since current Lake-Lehman senior Austin Harry did so in 2011. When Harry accomplished that feat, he was the third freshman in a row from the WVC to do that.

Brotherly love

With his three wins over the weekend at the Class 3A Northeast Regional Tournament, Delaware Valley’s Jalen Palmer now has 161 career wins and is just the fourth wrestler from D2 to ever reach 160. He passed his brother, C.J., by one over the weekend.

He is five wins away from Lake-Lehman’s Matt Dragon, who is second on the D2 all-time wins list, and eight away from tying Abington Heights’ Evan Craig for the most in district history. Craig’s mark is not within reach. The only way Palmer can tie Dragon would be by losing one of his first two matches at states, then wrestling back to take third.

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