Hampton wrestlers take step forward
A big part of what makes high school interesting is how quickly things can change and how anyone can be beaten. For Hampton wrestlers and coach Joe Eisel, they experienced each end of that spectrum this season — and seem to be in a better place for it.
Individually, the team improved. After sending one wrestler to WPIALs last year (Josh Campbell), this year's team sent four, including Campbell, to Western Pennsylvania's biggest high school wrestling dance this season. Two others placed sixth in sections, one place outside the required top five for advancement.
The team as a whole seems to be building momentum on a solid foundation of young, talented freshmen.
Perhaps none of that was on display more than freshman Tyler Kocak (106, 28-5), who pulled off a major upset of No. 1 seed Darren Miller of Kiski Area at WPIALs. Kocak, however, dropped his next match to eventual winner Kurtis Phipps of Norwin and then was ousted in the wrestlebacks by Moon's Frankie Bonura, a wrestler whom he had struggled with earlier in the year.
With a plethora of serious contenders at 106, Eisel knew Kocak's best chance was to land an automatic state bid in the semifinals by beating Phipps, but he was edged 2-1.
“Part of me was disappointed, but part of that disappointment came from him realizing his own potential,” said Eisel of Kocak, who posted wins against Miller (third place in states) and Shaler's Ryan Sullivan (state runner-up) this season.
There was plenty more experience gained at WPIALs. Campbell (113, 23-12), who came on the scene as a freshman last year, went 2-2, one win better than last year. Vincent Schmitt (132, 21-12), also a sophomore, made it to the quarterfinals.
Junior Chad Scherer (160, 20-18), the vocal leader in the locker room, made his first appearance and posted a win. Additionally, sophomore Liam Helon (126, 18-20) and junior Jesse Berzonski (285, 13-9) posted sixth-place finishes the sectionals.
“(Liam) was very consistent all year long and for him to be in a position where he almost cracked into the WPIAL tournament, I think that's a big deal for him.”
Another tough story, yet one that bodes well for the future, is freshman Zack Wright (120, 24-6), who missed weight at sectionals by .10 of a pound, partly because of some scale issues that, after uncovered, were too late to correct.
All that said, the team will look to push forward from a 9-11 dual meet year, a record that might misrepresent the value of how good it really could be, given the Talbots were giving away four forfeits in weight classes each match — meaning they were starting with at 24-point deficit.
The junior high team sent five wrestlers to PJW states, and Eisel thinks some make an immediate impact — including recently crowned PJW state champion at 167 Justin Hart — and expects to be a full, 14-weight class team in the near future.
Devon Moore is a freelance writer.