By NATE HECKENBERGER

nateheckenberger@gmail.com

@nheckenberger

Four years ago it would have taken quite the imagination to predict where Downingtown East would be today.

Spearheaded by an unassuming quartet of Cougars, East has transformed from a perennial runner-up to a three-time Ches-Mont National Division champion.

East didn't do it with spectacular freshmen classes, soaked in accolades. The Cougars did it the old-fashioned way, converting desire and dedication into progressive success. The four seniors from East -- Jared Leonetti (126 pounds), Chris Jarani (160), Adam Pleines (195) and Sean Snodgrass (285) -- who will compete in the Class AAA Southeast Regional this weekend are the posterboys.

A tournament-high nine total Cougars will start the competition tonight at Pottstown High at 6 p.m. with the pigtails and then the quarterfinals. Action will restart Saturday at 10 a.m. with the semifinals and consolation matches, with the finals and consi finals at 6 p.m. The top three from each weight class qualify for the PIAA tournament March 6-8 at the Giant Center in Hershey.

What makes that group of four's appearance at regionals all the more impressive is their combined record of 21-28 as freshmen, with Leonetti winning 19 of them.

"It's been a long, hard effort as a team in making it as far as we can,' Pleines said. "It's been great overall to see so many people work together and really make a name for ourselves.'

Pleines was 0-3 as a freshman, but is making his third trip to regionals and just won his 100th match last weekend at districts. He, like Leonetti and Snodgrass, started his wrestling career in junior high.

Snodgrass was the typical football lineman turned heavyweight. It started much like his teammates, with a 2-7 record as a freshman. That was followed by a 9-15 campaign as a sophomore, but then something clicked. Last season Snodgrass won 40 bouts and qualified for states. Now he expects to get back.

"Last year just kind of happened,' Snodgrass said. "It wasn't even really a goal. I was just hoping to get to regionals. It just kind of happened because no one even knew about me.'

Leonetti went 19-17 as a freshman, but unlike his heavier teammates, he's had to deal with lightweights who grew up wrestling. With 109 career wins, Leonetti does not have an easy path to Hershey, but that seems to be the only way he knows, anyway.

"It means basically everything,' Leonetti said of a chance to reach states. "It's everything I worked for the past six years.'

Jarani has taken a circuitous route to where he is, going 0-1 as a predominantly junior varsity wrestler as a freshman, and then 14-15 as a sophomore. He qualified for regionals last season but couldn't compete due to an injury. Currently he's won 28 straight bouts and hasn't lost this calendar year.

"I knew I had potential, but I didn't know if I'd ever reach it as a freshman,' Jarani said. "I was a pretty good JV wrestler, but I never thought I would be as good as the kids who make states.'

Hershey is a great place to end a career.

106

District champs: Avon Grove's Edgar Garcia (30-5), Boyertown's Jakob Campbell (36-6), Council Rock South's Riley Palmer (34-6)

Locals: Garcia, Downingtown West's Troy Smith (28-10), Rustin's Brett Kaliner (35-7)

Outlook: Garcia, an eighth-place state medalist last season, is one of four seniors, but it's freshmen Palmer and Campbell that many expect him to give the biggest challenge. That pair is on the opposite side, however, and Kaliner starts with Campbell while Smith gets Palmer. Garcia is favored to reach the finals from the top but Pennridge's Kordell Rush will be a challenge.

113

District champs: Owen J. Roberts' Derek Gulotta (30-5), Downingtown East's Jude McDowell (27-14), Pennsbury's Connor Joyce (27-9)

Locals: McDowell, West Chester East's Noah Hankin (28-8), Octorara's Rico Camacho (22-18).

Outlook: It wouldn't be a huge surprise if District 1 West's three qualifiers, Gulotta, Spring-Ford's Ryan Hayes and Upper Perkiomen's Dante Steffenino, claimed the top-three spots here. McDowell starts with Steffenino and will have the size advantage. If he can find enough offense, McDowell's size over his opponents could have him wrestling for a slot to Hershey.

120

District champs: Pennridge's Scotty Parker (37-1), Garnet Valley's Mike Marino (33-6), Downingtown East's Wade Cummings (41-0)

Locals: Cummings, Henderson's Kyle Medrow (33-5)

Outlook: Parker topped his fourth-place finish at states as a sophomore with third last season, so he's the odds-on favorite. Marino placed sixth last year in Hershey, but Cummings owns a 3-2 win over him earlier this month. Cummings and Marino could see each other again in the semifinals, but the undefeated Cougar has to tango with Council Rock South's impressive freshman, Zack Trampe, first. Medrow has a winnable quarterfinal but then gets Parker.

126

District champs: Souderton's Kolton Veit (33-3), Marple Newtown's Pat Callaghan (32-2), Downingtown East's Jared Leonetti (38-2)

Locals: Leonetti, Coatesville's Chase Stephens (28-6), Henderson's Joey Wilson (34-6)

Outlook: There is no easy draw at this weight, and Leonetti starts with Pennridge's Ben Ross, who placed fifth in the state last winter. Council Rock South's Dan Martoccio is on the bottom, as well, and he earned an eighth-place state medal two years ago. Up top, Stephens gets stingy sophomore Lucas Miller of Boyertown in quarters, while Wilson has a winnable pigtail to get to the top seed, Veit.

132

District champs: Bensalem's Tommy Stokes (37-0), Boyertown's Eddie Kriczky (41-6), Upper Dublin's Colin Devlin (33-3)

Local: Downingtown West's Tristan Reynolds (23-12)

Outlook: The top two seeds, Stokes and Kriczky, are favored to reach the finals. Reynolds has a tough sophomore from Pottstown, Bryant Wise, in quarters and the West senior wrestled his best last weekend with three overtime matches.

138

District champs: Owen J. Roberts' Demetri D'Orsaneo (30-9), Council Rock North's Tim Ambacher (32-5), Henderson's Brad Patton (23-6)

Locals: Patton, Downingtown East's Austin Lillis (30-7)

Outlook: In a very deep weight, the locals can't slip up because everyone knows how to win in this bracket. Patton gets Springfield Delco's Dennis Charamella in quarters, which should be an even matchup. Patton also has Council Rock North's Tim Ambacher and Methacton's Joe Staley on his side, and both have been picked to win the weight. Lillis sees another favorite for the finals in Central Bucks East's Evan Wilson, in quarters.

145

District champs: Central Bucks East's Francesco Fabozzi (34-1), Great Valley's Shane Ruhnke (32-3), Owen J. Roberts' Dominick Petrucelli (28-6)

Locals: Ruhnke, Unionville's Mike Caldwell (34-8), Rustin's Thomas Hatzipavlides (31-11)

Outlook: Ruhnke is looking for his second straight to trip to states and faces Hatboro Horsham's Brad Humski first. He should win and get the winner of Petrucelli and C. B. West's Riley Barth, which appears to be a tougher task. Fabozzi took fifth last year at states and would be Hatzipavlides' opponent if the Rustin senior wins his pigtail. Also up top, Caldwell, who needs three more wins to reach 100, looks for No. 98 against Pottstown's Patrick Bohn in quarters.

152

District champs: Norristown's Mike Springer (34-4), North Penn's Jeff Reimel (29-6), Pottsgrove's Nico Demetrio (35-2)

Locals: Downingtown West's Manoa Taniguchi (28-13)

Outlook: It'd be a surprise if Springer doesn't win the title here. Taniguchi is on the opposite side and gets Reimel, a returning state qualifier. Taniguchi has a tough road to Hershey, so he will have to keep matches close and win them on his feet, like he has this postseason.

160

District champs: Boyertown's Gregg Harvey (38-6), Downingtown East's Chris Jarani (40-2), Pennridge's Kyle Gentile (34-5)

Locals: Jarani, Coatesville's Zach Dellicompagni (28-11)

Outlook: The pair of sophomores, Harvey and Gentile, seem to be the early favorites. Harvey would be Dellicompagni's quarter matchup if the Coatesville junior can win his pigtail. Jarani keeps winning, big and small. The wins may come in the smaller variety this weekend, but Jarani hopes to stay hot in a competitive bottom half of the bracket. His quarters matchup is Perkiomen Valley's Nick Giangiulio, who reached states last season but has been beatable this postseason.

170

District champs: Garnet Valley's John Dambro (34-3), Harry S. Truman's Jesse Huber (36-2), Downingtown West's Gabe Hale (35-3)

Local: Hale

Outlook: There are no absolute hammers here, but the fight for top-three will be very tight. Hale has one of the more intriguing quarterfinal matchups with Boyertown's Cody Richmond. The winner there is favored to reach the finals, with Huber on that side as well. Up top, Dambro and Norristown's Rashon Lusane will likely fight for the other finals spot.

182

District champs: North Penn's Alex Price (24-4), Avon Grove's Caleb Edwards (30-1), Penncrest's Liam Frank (31-5)

Locals: Edwards, Downingtown East's Jason Gibson (29-8)

Outlook: Edwards is a good bet to reach the finals, with a win over potential semi foe, Frank, earlier this season. Neshaminy's Kody Lupfer is tough on the bottom half, as well. Up top, Gibson has a winnable quarter and would likely get Price, a returning state qualifier, in semis. Edwards hasn't been challenged this postseason, as he has looked like Hershey material.

195

District champs: Boyertown's Jordan Wertz (44-3), Penn Wood's Karon Lucas-Tillery (27-2), Coatesville's Wesley McGuire (30-7)

Locals: McGuire, Downingtown East's Adam Pleines (39-1), West Chester East's Rob Ritrovato (29-9)

Outlook: Pleines lost his first bout of the season last week and gets a deceptively tough Ben Kenis of Council Rock South. Ritrovato has a winnable pigtail to get to Wertz, who will be hard to beat by anyone at this weight. On the bottom, McGuire has Penncrest's senior, Austin Jacque. If he wins that one he'll likely get Lucas-Tillery, who reached states last winter.

220

District champs: Boyertown's Jordan Wood (36-0), Coatesville's Mike Boykin (33-0), William Tennent's Marc Isaac (31-0)

Locals: Boykin, Downingtown East's Billy McGinley (34-6)

Outlook: It would be the most-anticipated regional final between Wood and Boykin, which would also be a rematch of last year's final. They have to get there first, and Wood, a returning state runner-up, has the better draw up top. McGinley hopes to see him in semis. Boykin has a tougher path with Spring-Ford's Mason Romano in quarters and potentially Isaac in semis. Boykin has been dominant of late and could be making his third trip to states.

285

District champs: Methacton's Tracey Green (33-1), Great Valley's Dean Lang (31-3), Neshaminy's Bruce Graeber (25-9)

Locals: Lang, Downingtown East's Sean Snodgrass (36-4), Kennett's Cory Tomasetti (32-7)

Outlook: Lang helped himself out a bit by beating Snodgrass last week by avoiding the favorite, Green. It doesn't get much easier on the bottom half, though, with Pottsgrove's Pat Finn, who owns Green's only loss this season. Tomasetti has to win his pigtail to get Green in the quarters, and Snodgrass hopes to see the winner in semis after a winnable quarter.