Upper Perk's Dustin Steffenino earned a 4-1 decision against Pennsbury sophomore Connor Joyce in the consolation final at the Southeast AAA Regional Tournament held last weekend at Pottstown High School. The win got a Steffenino a spot in the state tournament.
Dustin Steffenino has no doubt felt his share of pressure during wrestling's individual postseason.
Two weeks ago at districts, the 113-pound junior had to scrap his way out of the consolation bracket to grab third place and the chance to extend his season. What Steffenino earned was a spot in the Southeast AAA Regional Tournament held this past weekend at Pottstown High School. At stake: a shot to take part in the pinnacle of high school wrestling, the PIAA Tournament held at the Giant Center in Hershey.
And much like his district run through the bracket, Steffenino found himself one bad match away from elimination after a setback in the semifinals. He opened with a first-round bye, then posted a 5-1 decision to get past District 1 AAA Central champ Jude McDowell (Downingtown East).
That set up a championship semifinal match with Spring-Ford junior Ryan Hayes, a rematch of the Pioneer Athletic Conference Championship semifinal, which Hayes won, 7-5. This time around, Hayes got up to a 5-0 lead that was just too much for Steffenino to rally from as he fell, 5-2.
Down but not out, Steffenino used an 8-0 decision in the consolation semifinals against Pennridge freshman Matt Parker to pave his way to the consolation final, with a state berth up for grabs to the winner. He was up to the challenge as he held on for a 4-1 decision against Pennsbury sophomore Connor Joyce to move on. The victory pushed Steffenino's record to 31-7 on the year and upped his career mark to 84-24.
The PAC-10 was well represented at regionals at 113, with Owen J. Roberts' Derek Gulotta first, and Hayes second. It was all part of the league's 15 medalists who will move on, including five individual regional champs.
"Dustin wrestled well except for the first minute of his semifinal match against Hayes," head coach Tom Hontz said of the timeframe when Steffenino yielded those five points. "It takes a lot to battle through the wrestle backs like he has, and to win that all-or-nothing consolation final is not easy – especially with the ride to Hershey on the line."
Steffenino's first test in Hershey won't be an easy one. He will open against Franklin Regional freshman phenom Spencer Lee this afternoon, who is the lone unbeaten wrestler in the 113-pound bracket with a 45-0 record. Lee, who is ranked No. 1 in the country in many polls, spent just seven minutes on the mat at the Southwest AAA Regional en route to a title. He was one of three individual champs for Franklin, and has five falls, one major and a tech fall in the postseason.
"He's going to have his work cut out for him, but hopefully his experience with the wrestle backs the past three weeks will prepare him to battle and hopefully secure a medal," Hontz said. "Either way, it is an awesome feeling to be able to coach at the Giant Center one more time and I'm excited to see what Dustin can do."
Hontz, who is stepping down as head coach after 24 years at Upper Perk, was honored at the regional tournament and inducted into the Southeast Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame, along with former Tribe wrestlers Brent Fiorito, Chris Sheetz and Zack Kemmerer.
"The past few weeks have been tough because you never knew if it was going to be the final practice or the final tournament," Hontz said. "Well, this weekend will be the last one. It will be nice to get one last tour of the Giant Center and to see all the coaches that I've come to associate with for the past so many years. I'm sure it will be a bit emotional, but I also hope that I will be back in some capacity as either an assistant, a fan or maybe a parent – that would be awesome."