A myriad of challenges presented by opponents combined with the mental and physical preparedness makes it quite difficult to thrive in the great sport of wrestling.
But that’s just what the Chester Academy wrestling program did - they thrived on the mat on a constant basis this past season.
“I think the season as a whole we were able to improve each match and get better as the season progressed,’’ Chester Head Coach Jimmy Ehlers said. “We were able to string together four straight wins to conclude the season and bring our record to 8-8. This is only the second time in school history that the team had a .500 or better record. The only other time was the 2016-17 season.
“Though we did not accomplish our goal of winning our division, we only lost one match to a division opponent," Ehlers added. "This was definitely something to be proud of and use as motivation for next year.’’
Among the team and individual accomplishments noted by Ehlers were a fifth-place finish in the team scoring at the Section 9 Tournament, six wrestlers placing in the top four at the Section 9 Tournament, two wrestlers reaching the finals with one champion (Devin McGovern).
“We were able to field four captains for our team (Mark Bruckenstein, Kwalin Gonzalez, Devin McGovern and Teddy Szymanski),’’ Ehlers said. “Each brought their own dynamic to the leadership position. Three of the four were seniors (Bruckenstein, Gonzalez and McGovern), but other seniors like Dylan Bullock and Bryan Sahad led by example and often were looked to as someone who worked hard. A lot of the team wanted to wrestle those guys in practice because they knew they would push them to their limit. Dylan and Bryan both played football, so that toughness definitely carried over into wrestling season. I cannot say enough how those five seniors were looked upon when things got tough for guidance.
“Some underclassmen that showed leadership were Szymanski and Josh Schmoyer. Teddy was named captains by his teammates, though I was hesitant to name a sophomore a captain, it was certainly a learning process. He came through and was able to place at the Section 9 Tournament for the second year in a row. His tireless work on and off the mat with organizing events, workouts and being a tremendous student is definitely something for our team to model.
“Schmoyer is a quiet warrior on and off the mat. He can always be seen running through his neighborhood, working out and being the hardest worker in the room. It certainly was on display when he upset the second seed at 138 pounds at Sections. He worked so hard and he can definitely carry this over into his senior year.’’
Improvements were seen throughout the roster for the Hambletonians this winter.
“Hard work is contagious,’’ Ehlers said. “When you hear other coaches saying keep up the good work, I always tell them that it’s all the kids. I just give them the formula, they have to find the solution. A wrestler like Nick Dicurcio is a prime example of how hard work. The strides he made during the off season working out after practice and making sure he did the right thing was on display at the Section 9 tournament. He went from winning one match his freshman year to placing third at 160 pounds and winning 14 matches his sophomore year.
“I would say we have a group of freshman and sophomores that are in their second year of the program that have shown this investment; Nick Randazzo, Joe Scocozza, Mitch Hazzard and Simon Riegelhaupt are definitely some motivated athletes and can do great things in the coming years.’’
The graduation of the class of 2020 will certainly be felt, but Chester is looking forward to a bright future on the mat.
“Without question we will miss our seven seniors that are graduating, but we have a lot of guys returning and other kids in the school can see how much success the wrestling team is having,’’ Ehlers said. “This is creating a buzz for kids to be a part of the program which creates competition in the room for each kid to work harder. This will lead to the athletes not becoming complacent in their workouts and be motivated to always get better. We live by a quote by the legendary Dan Gable: ‘If you cannot take first, you take the next best thing.' This will motivate each kid that if they get knocked down, they have a motivation to do whatever they can do to the best of their ability.
“The day after the Sectional Tournament, kids were already asking when the off season workouts begin, whether it is tournaments, camps, clubs or just the after school weight room I hold two-three times a week. Seeing the kids ask the right questions and the investment they are putting into not only the sport but their school work is contagious. There will definitely be some good battles next season for weight classes. Because once you have wrestled, everything else in life is easy.’’
Assistant coach AJ Voelker has proven to be very valuable to the Hambletonians’ wrestling program.
“AJ has done a job like nobody else I have seen in my time coaching,’’ Ehlers said. “The time he puts into every practice, match and everything else I need done is second to none. I often will look to AJ about a call or a decision and we are either on the same page or is already asking me the same thing. His knowledge of the sport and techniques often times may be something new that I find myself taking notes on. He has a great relationship with the athletes as well. The kids know that if I am not there, they are in good hands with Coach Voelker."