Jeff Madden had a simple goal for his Pottsgrove wrestling team to achieve this season.
"Continue to work hard to improve and compete in our league,' was the sixth-year head coach's mission statement for the 2013-14 campaign. Coming off a 2012-13 season that saw the Falcons go 7-9 for the winter — 3-6 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference — it implied a measured, and realistic, drive toward getting better.
With two months of the winter gone by, the Pottsgrove grapplers have taken that step ... with the promise of more to come.
Going into the last full week of regular-season action, the Falcons have insured themselves a winning record in prelude to the postseason. Their current 12-8 mark shows significant upswing from one year ago; and while they currently stand at 2-4 in the league, they have a mathematical shot at improving on their previous PAC-10 showing.
Other numbers tell a more precise story about Pottsgrove's improvement.
While the Falcons were outscored in duals by an average margin of 41-29 last year, they have outscored the opposition this year 38-33. Individually, they have more wrestlers who have compiled gaudier records.
The previous stars were Nico Demetrio, 26-11 his junior season; and Pat Finn, 25-6 as a sophomore. This year, Demetrio's record is a stellar 27-2 with a team-high 13 pins while Finn, though not seeing action until the last week in January, is nonetheless off to a solid 5-0 start.
Three underclassmen are also drawing attention with their performances. Ryan Finn, a freshman 132-pounder, has a 21-8 record to his credit while sophomore Chris DeFrancesco, currently working at 195, is 22-5 with 10 pins along the way. And junior Kylif Underwood is 24-6 at 113.
This year, Demetrio also took his place on the list of wrestlers from The Mercury's coverage area who've gone over the 100-win mark for their scholastic careers. He became the program's sixth entry to accomplish that feat, doing so during Pottsgrove's participation in the District 1 Class AAA Duals Tournament two weeks ago.
"It was just a very memorable moment,' Demetrio said. "It's something that I've been looking forward to this season. It was one of my goals in reaching, and I reached it.
"And now I'm just working on my other goals ... make it to states, then when you're at states, getting on that state podium. That's something, in the off-season, I was looking forward to while I was training so hard.'
They were the gold (and silver) standard of the Class AAA field in the District 1 Duals Tournament, finishing 1-2 in the 24-team field after three days of action spanning two weeks.
Now Boyertown and Spring-Ford take their "team' show on the road, heading to the PIAA Duals tourney this week. They will be joining 22 other schools in bids to see who is the Keystone State's top big-school mat program — starting at sites around the Commonwealth, then heading to Hershey's Giant Center Thursday through Saturday.
Spring-Ford (20-2) gets started Tuesday by hosting Exeter in a preliminary match postponed from Monday. It's a familiar scenario, one to which head coach Tim Seislove hopes his Rams will make a variation; namely, reaching the field of 16 when the tournament cranks up in earnest.
"That's been our theme all year, to get to Hershey,' Seislove noted following Saturday's title match with the Bears.
First, Spring-Ford must get past an Exeter unit that has compiled an 11-1 record thus far. The Eagles' top performers are all underclassmen: Junior Ethan Stever (15-2 between 145 and 152), sophomore Brett Kulp (14-1 between 106 and 113) and freshman Austin DeSanto (11-1 at 113).
The winner will then face Father Judge, from the Philadelphia Catholic League, in the first round at Hershey. The Crusaders, champions in District 12, bring a 14-2 record into the state duals.
Boyertown, in the meantime, has its sights on a first-rounder with Wyoming Valley West. The District 2 champion Spartans come in with an 18-5 mark and four 20-win wrestlers in their stable.
Seniors Travis Roper (27-3 between 132 and 138) and Nathan Cheek (29-3 between 145 and 152) lead the way. With them are juniors Cody Cordes (29-2 between 160 and 170) and James Wright (22-9 between 106 and 113).
District 1's other state qualifiers, third-place Council Rock South and fourth-place Garnet Valley, will be joining Spring-Ford in the four-match preliminary round. South opens against District 3 third seed Wilson, and GV faces District 11 runner-up Parkland.
PAC-ING IT IN
If it's February, then wrestling season is moving from regular duals to tournaments.
That's the case in the Pioneer Athletic Conference, where its post-season begins Feb. 15 with the individual championships at Boyertown. Member schools have 10 more bouts to get in the books before then, which will make for a busy time in the coming week.
Boyertown (8-0) finds its bid for a perfect PAC-10 run going to Pope John Paul II (0-7) Wednesday. Their league finale will be a prelude to the Bears' heading to Hershey Thursday for the PIAA Class AAA Duals Tournament, which will run at the Giant Center through Saturday.
Wednesday's full slate of league matches will be headed by the nominal "second place' duel between Spring-Ford and Methacton. That stop in Fairview Village is part of an even-busier week for the Rams (6-1), who joined Boyertown in the PIAA Duals with their runner-up showing at the District 1 tourney last weekend.
The Warriors (6-1) precede the dual with Spring-Ford by hosting Phoenixville (1-6) Tuesday. It's one of two league clashes on the day's schedule, the other being Owen J. Roberts (4-3) at Upper Perkiomen (4-3).
The rest of Wednesday's slate shows Owen J. Roberts visiting the Phantoms, Perkiomen Valley (3-5) at Pottstown (1-5) and Pottsgrove (2-4) heading north to face UP. Friday will be the "neighborhood' brawl between Pottstown and Pottsgrove, taking place in the Falcons' Nest.
Pottstown and PJP wrap up their respective PAC regular seasons Saturday with their 11 a.m. pairing in Upper Providence. One final match date — Spring-Ford at Pottsgrove — is yet to be determined.
OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE
Their dual duels this winter have been well-documented.
But outside the confines of the circuit's schedule, PAC-10 teams have a solid record of performance to report.
PAC-10 teams have an 82-34 record against non-league schools. That number includes teams' showings in the District 1-AAA Duals Tournament, with the exception of the Boyertown/Spring-Ford clash in Saturday's title match.
The Bears and Rams, to no surprise, have contributed 14-0 runs to that record. Behind them, Perkiomen Valley owes much of its 13-6 overall record to a 10-1 performance outside the PAC-10.
Pottsgrove (12-8) and Pottstown (11-11) are other teams that have 10-win showings outside the league. Methacton (8-5), Phoenixville (6-3) and Pope John Paul II (5-3) also have winning records outside the circuit.
If it seems like Boyertown wrestlers are pinning lot of opponents, it's because they are.
The Bears lead the PAC-10 with 137 falls to date. They also boast the area's leader in Jordan Wertz, who has 20 to date.
Behind Wertz, Boyertown has gotten a slew of pins from Jordan Wood (18), Eddie Kriczky (12), and Garrett Mauger and William Scholl (11 apiece).
Team-wise, Spring-Ford is second to Boyertown with 129, followed by Perkiomen Valley (114) and Methacton (103).
Spring-Ford heavyweight Josh Boyer has 18.
Other PAC-10 grapplers whose double-digit drops lead their teams are Methacton's Tracey Green (16), Pottstown's Josh Slody (15), Perkiomen Valley's Tyrelle Robinson (14), Pottsgrove's Nico Demetrio (13), Owen J. Roberts' Derek Gulotta (11), Phoenixville's David Rosati (11) and Upper Perkiomen's Casey Cook (11).
Follow Jeff Stover on Twitter at @MercuryXStover.