Burrell grappler Marra finds new motivator
HERSHEY — A few names tumbled around in Burrell senior Anthony Marra's head as motivators while he proceeded through his final wrestling season this winter.
Phil Marra, Anthony's older brother, came to mind when postseason accolades became a way of gaining bragging rites. During his senior season in 2013, Phil Marra placed fourth in PIAA Class AA.
Damon Greenwald, Al Beattie, Steve Edwards, Dakota DesLauriers and Travis McKillop resonated with Marra because their names appear on banners for recent PIAA individual championships. Greenwald, Beattie, Edward and DesLauriers built up Burrell's streak of years with a state title winner to four straight (2013-16), and McKillop finished first in 2011.
Just minutes before the start of the 2017 PIAA Class AA individual championships Thursday at Giant Center in Hershey, Marra added a new name: Dillan Jeffrey.
Jeffrey, a 126-pounder, and Marra, who wrestles at 182, hoped to fuel the Bucs' collection of five state qualifiers as a standout senior tandem, but the former's opportunity to compete disappeared before he even stepped on the mat. Doctors chosen by the PIAA ruled Jeffrey out at weigh-ins because of a skin condition.
“It definitely made us mad,” said Marra, who won his lone match of the day, 10-2, in the first round. “The PIAA can overrule a doctor's excuse, and that's just ridiculous. It makes us angry and want to win for him and for us.”
Marra (30-9) advanced to Friday as Burrell's lone championship contender. He'll meet Northwest Region champion and Saegertown junior Cody Mulligan (43-3) in the quarterfinals. Three other Bucs remain in the mix for medals. Freshman 106-pounder Trent Valovchik, sophomore 113-pounder Bryan Gaul and junior 120-pounder Trent Bechtold dropped into the consolation brackets.
The PIAA Class AA quarterfinals and second-round consolation bouts begin at 9 a.m. Friday. Semifinals are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Jeffrey mustered the will to watch his teammates after grappling with his crushing circumstances. His bout with impetigo started late last week, he said. He took the antibiotics and creams necessary to receive clearance to return to competition from his doctor. But the PIAA's doctor declared Jeffrey's condition misdiagnosed during the skin check Thursday.
The Burrell senior, a first-time state qualifier, defaulted out of two matches. It soured the experience for not only him but his family — his father flew up from Florida on Tuesday, and one of his two sisters brought her husband and kids.
“I didn't want to believe it at all,” Jeffrey said. “I was crushed. All of my dreams and hopes, my goals I had set for the year, it was all gone like that.
“I went to the locker room and just sat down by myself for a little while. Then a couple of my teammates came in, gave me hugs. Trent Bechtold gave me a hug for like five minutes. I was just devastated. I still am.”
Burrell coach Josh Shields found himself frustrated with the process.
“How can you say one doctor's word is better than another doctor's word?” Shields said. “There's no (instant) test to validate it. That (PIAA) doctor said he's 99 percent sure what was written on the form is not what (Jeffrey) has. But you're 99 percent sure you're ruining someone's dream.
“It's just a terrible situation. It puts the doctors in a tough spot, because they know (what this tournament means). A lot of the guys they have here have a wrestling background.”
Jeffrey's circumstances served as a reminder for Marra that there's no better time for desperation. The 182-pounder responded with a lopsided win over Southeast Region runner-up and Palmerton senior Jared Mooney, who entered the bout with a 32-1 record but gave up a takedown within 20 seconds of the opening whistle and trailed 5-1 after two periods.
“I just want no regrets after I'm done with this,” Marra said. “I definitely went in there knowing I was going to win. I just have to be confident this whole week.”
Shields suspected Marra's 5-4 loss in the PIAA Southwest Regional semifinals to rival Derry sophomore Dom DeLuca on Feb. 25 put the 182-pounder's head in the right place as Burrell began to prepare for the state tournament.
“It's sort of like that wake-up call,” Shields said. “He's not one to really let losses get to him. But I definitely think it motivated him a little bit coming in here for his senior year.
“He's a heck of an athlete. Strong kid, athletic kid. He can move real well when he gets going. So right now is the time where he has to do that. … These next however many matches he has, I'm confident if he can go out there and get takedowns, he's going to win a lot of matches.”