3 golds, another team trophy
When the 2014 PIAA Championships came to an end late Saturday afternoon, there was little doubt that the best team was Bethlehem Catholic.
The Golden Hawks' Jake Riegel, Luke Karam and Zeke Moisey all earned gold for the first time, while six others placed to help the program earn the team title with a state record 138.5 points.
For Moisey, the honor was a long time coming after the senior finished second the last two years.
"Every year is a new year, but it was definitely on my mind," said the 126-pounder. "I just wanted to go out and get gold this year and I wasn't settling for anything less than that."
The senior took much of the drama out of the match early, getting an early lead on Schuylkill Valley's Josh Giorgio before eventually claiming a 9-3 decision. After getting caught in a move last year, Moisey was perfectly content to wrestle somewhat conservatively and win with his defense this time around.
"I wasn't going to try anything big like last year," he said. "My plan was just to wrestle smart, do the same thing I did at the Christmas City Tournament, which was hit my doubles and singles, and it worked it for me."
The strategy was similar for Riegel and Karam. Riegel, a fifth-place finisher a week earlier at the Southeast Regional tournament, earned a 3-1 decision at 106 pounds over Bishop McDevitt's John Pipa while Karam atoned for last year's runner-up finish with a 5-0 win at 113 over Bedford's Jonathan Gabriel.
"All three guys really wrestled conservatively, especially if you've seen what they've done in the past," said Bethlehem Catholic coach Jeff Karam. "They all have 'baby blanket' moves that they can go to at anytime, and that's what you saw today.
"But it's the state finals and there's a lot of pressure. I think … I know all three can wrestle better. But I also know that if you're going to try and score on them, it's going to be really hard. Defense is a major point of emphasis in our room, and I think you saw that today."
After earning the final qualifying spot at last week's regional tournament, Riegel certainly made the most of his first ever trip to Hershey.
"I just look to the future. Last week didn't mean anything," the freshman said. "I was able to advance and this tournament was like a whole new season for me."
For Karam, the championship is the culmination of a dominant postseason that also included district and regional championships.
"This win really means a lot," the sophomore said. "I've been looking forward to this for a whole year.
"And now I have a chance to do it two more times. I'm just really blessed and thankful to have this opportunity."
Unfortunately, Bethlehem Catholic's fourth finalist, Jose Ortiz, won't have a chance to do it again after coming up short as a senior.
Ortiz lost his 182-pound championship bout by a 4-0 decision to Lancaster Catholic's Stephen Loiseau. Despite the setback, the opportunity to wrestle in the finals is one Ortiz takes great pride in after not making weight last season.
"It means a lot to me," he said. "Last year, I was in the farthest corner of the stands thinking about how ashamed I was and where I could have been.
"I took that hard in the offseason and trained really hard and had a great season. I did the best that I could to make it to the state finals and it's definitely an accomplishment from where I was last year."
Other medalists for the Golden Hawks were Andrew Dunn (3rd), Joey Gould (4th), Stephen Maloney (5th), Mike Labriola (7th) and Nick Cortopassi (8th).
While he didn't get the state title he hoped for, Dunn was able to earn his 100th win in his third-place bout and will leave Hershey with motivation to return even stronger next year.
"Getting my 100th win in Hershey is something I was really looking forward to," said Dunn. "Obviously, I would have liked to have been in the final, but I'm happy with how I bounced back from my semifinal loss (4-2, UTB to eventual champion Jake Temple of Avella) in a match that could have arguably been the state final.
"He's a tough kid and I'm glad that he went on to win. I'm just happy I was able to bounce back and get third after being in a similar situation last year and losing out and finishing sixth. Right now I might not realize it, but down the line I'll appreciate this even more when I'm back here to get what I want."
Unlike Dunn, Gould lost his 120-pound third place match, dropping a 3-2 decision to Derry's George Phillippi. But after a district championship and a runner-up finish at the regional tournament, Gould can still look back on this season and consider it a success.
"I'm really happy," the sophomore said. "I accomplished my goals this season, winning districts and making it here.
"We have a board in our room with all the greats and what they accomplished on it. And now I have my name up there and it's an incredible feeling."