Strath Haven Wrestling


Four Delco states qualifiers are program trailblazers

Four Delco states qualifiers are program trailblazers

Delaware County’s state tournament-bound wrestlers weren’t looking for validation. They get that and then some from teammates.

But after a grueling and gut-wrenching weekend at the PIAA Class 3A Southeast regional, it was thoughtful to be mentioned during the Monday morning announcements at their respective schools.

“For John and me,” Strath Haven senior Lee Holbert said, referencing teammate John Crawford, “hearing the announcements on the loudspeaker that we were going to states was really cool. During the season we don’t really get a whole lot of recognition from everybody. So, to get it this week was really cool.”


Garnet Valley’s Tommy Mahoney related to that as well.

“I got a bunch of congratulations and I got some applause and stuff like that,” Mahoney said. “It’s awesome. Garnet Valley kids probably don’t follow wrestling as much as football or basketball. It was awesome.”

Mahoney (285), Holbert (285), Crawford (160) and Hunter Catka (220) of Sun Valley would like nothing more than to attach exclamation points to their banner seasons beginning Thursday at the Giant Center in Hershey for the PIAA Championships.

Catka (37-1) arguably has the best shot at a state title. It would be the first gold medal for Sun Valley. If he finishes in the top eight, he would be just the second medalist for the Vanguards, joining Alex Elliott from 2015.

The flip side is that the 220-pound bracket is one of the toughest in the tournament. If Catka wins his first bout, he would face Sellersville’s Nate Schon (26-0), who handed Catka his only loss. The third match would be against Ian Edenfield (30-5) of Laurel Highlands, who Upper Darby’s Brian Kennerly defeated, 3-2, to win the state crown at 220 last year.

“Pretty much it is just another challenge,” Catka said. “I’m just taking it one match at a time and just enjoying it.”

Vanguards coach Tommy Ellis thinks Catka is ready for another challenge, as he’s put into practice the techniques learned from the RTC Olympic Training center at Penn, where the instructor is Brandon Slay, the Olympic gold medalist from the 2000 Sydney Games.

“I think this past offseason really kind of lit a fire under Hunter,” Ellis said. “Probably less than a month after last season ended, he decided to do the NHSCA’s as a freshman, and he won it, and it’s a national tournament. He was determined to kind of really seek out the best of the best. He enrolled in the Fargo freestyle tournament, the No. 1 freestyle in the country, and he placed and was All-American in that. As soon as he placed All-American he took the next step, going up to Penn to work with Brandon Slay. It just caught his interest more and more and he kept progressing. And he has that amazing self-drive and self-hunger.”

Mahoney is seeking the second straight medal for the Jaguars, Matt Marino having finished seventh last year. Pat O’Brien’s silver medal in 2001 is the school’s top finish at states.

Mahoney, a senior, has endeared himself to coaches and alums for extending the program’s streak of consecutive PIAA qualifiers to 13 years. That’s easily the longest such skein in the county, with Upper Darby lacking a state qualifier for the first time in five seasons this year. It’s the 14th time in 15 seasons that Jaguars coach Rocco Fantazzi and his tireless staff — who dethroned the Royals as Central League champions — have had a state qualifier.

“People thought Garnet Valley was done with the run of excellence,” Fantazzi said. “And we just wanted to prove to everybody that just because our makeup has changed, that we’re not any different than we were before. We’re still a good program.”

Fantazzi and Mahoney didn’t anticipate he’d be the Jaguars’ only state qualifier. Freshman Coltin Deery and Gavin and Griffin Hollinsgworth had solid seasons.

“I thought some other wrestlers would be coming with me,” Mahoney said. “But they had some tough bouts, too. But it feels good to keep the tradition going. And there’s a young group behind us with a bunch of good wrestlers that will keep it going when I’m gone.”

For now Mahoney’s focus is “leaving with something hanging around my neck.” At some point that could mean another bout with Holbert, on the other side of the bracket, for the fifth time in two years. Almost all the matches have been close, Mahoney getting the better of it.

“Me and Lee, we’re getting to be like friends,” Mahoney said. “He’s in the hotel and we were talking earlier (Wednesday). After the match last weekend we were talking a little bit. … I want as many Delco people as possible to win.”

Along those lines, Holbert and Crawford hope a few rounds of “wall ball” will take away the state tournament jitters. Coach Anthony Gilliano borrowed the game from the Sun Valley coaches.

“It kind of loosens us up,” Holbert said.

“I could tell the boys were nervous on Saturday before our matches,” Gilliano said of regionals. “We went into the hallway and played before the first round and our guys went 3-for-3 (in matches). And before the next round we played again and went 2-1 in that round. The one round we didn’t play at all was the same round that Brett (Burns) and Lee lost. So, being somewhat superstitious we continued to play it. I told the kids we have a good spot to play up there at the Giant Center.”

Gilliano says he’s been surprised by Crawford’s progress, who finished second at regionals, the highest ever for a Panther.

“Just to watch his transition to a confident outgoing wrestler is really special,” Gilliano said.

Holbert, on the other hand, is living his — and Gilliano’s — dream. He went 5-14 as a freshman, 12-17 as a sophomore and 26-14 as a junior. This year he’s 31-7.

“His sophomore season, my first year, I don’t think there was a kid I was harder on than him,” Gilliano said. “He wasn’t the hardest worker. I always told him that he needed to believe. Sophomore year I put this goal on him that he was going to make states. There was no other kid that I wanted to see succeed more.”

Holbert not only made states, he helped tow the program with him. He and Crawford are the program’s first state qualifiers.

“I just want to wrestle the best I can on the mat,” Holbert said. “It’s sort of like I know it’s my last time ever stepping on the mat and wrestling for Strath Haven. So, leaving it out there in a sense is what I want to do. And the second goal I guess is making it to the podium, be a state placer and leave that legacy.”

Regionals update

Final write up


 This past weekend was Regionals held at Souderton High School. The Panthers brought 2 wrestlers Devon Moorre and Lee Holbert.


Devon Moore – 152

Friday night was the first round of wrestling, Devon faced L.J. Kahn  from Council Rock South. The match was fast paced; with Devon working for a takedown, Kahn was good on his feet and took the match with a score of 7-0.

Saturday was the first round of wrestle backs. Devon had Daniel Labus from West Chester Rustin, the match went through the first period scoreless but Devon was working so Labus got a stall call. Second period Labus took top, Devon was able to stand up, score was 1-0 going into the third. Third period Devon chooses neutral, to work for the takedown and possibly a second stall call. Only 30 seconds into the third period Devon and Labus were in a scramble that went out of bounds. Devon did not get up from the fall and had to forfeit the match due to injury.

            Devon is a senior who has a varsity record of 27-9 , and a career record of 66-37.

 Lee Holbert – 285

Friday night Lee has his first round match against Nick Cooper from Bensalem. The first period was scoreless. Seond period Lee chose bottom, Cooper pulled him back when Lee went to sit out, Cooperwon by pin early in the second period.

Saturday in the first round of wrestle backs Lee had Ryan Cody from North Penn. The match was close, both wrestlers kept the match going in neutral. Cody was able to score a stand up and 2 takedowns to win over Lee 5-2.

            Lee is a Junior with a varsity record of 26-14.