Upper Perk wrestler Dustin Steffenino took eighth place last week at the PIAA AAA Tournament at 113 pounds.
Tom Hontz has just about seen it all in his 24 years as head coach.
The Upper Perkiomen veteran coach has guided his storied programs to countless sectional, district and regional titles (for exact figures, count up the names that fill the wall of the wrestling room). Beyond that, he has placed wrestlers on nearly every step of the podium in Hershey at the state tournament, and his squads also have a state duals title to their collective credit.
Suffice it to say the guy has experience and knows a good effort when he sees one.
That is what made his assessment of Dustin Steffenino's participation in the PIAA AAA Tournament this past weekend such lofty praise.
Steffenino – a junior who took third in the Pioneer Athletic Conference Tournament, the District 1 and the Southeast Regional Tournament – cashed in on Saturday with an eighth-place medal at 113.
Perhaps Hontz said it best: "Dustin's postseason run may be one of the finest I've personally been a part of," he said. "He was sort of overlooked all season long, but we knew he had some quality wins earlier this year that had to make him a potential state caliber wrestler."
The PAC-10 was well represented at 113, with other entries including Owen J. Roberts' Derek Gulotta and Ryan Hayes (Spring-Ford). The trio ran the table in the postseason leading up to states, and in the seventh-place medal round it was an all-PAC-10 finale as Steffenino and Hayes squared off yet again.
Hayes has held the upper hand all season against Steffenino, including an 11-5 win in a dual match in December, the semifinal round of the PAC-10 tournament (7-5) and at regionals (5-2 semifinal win). Each time, Steffenino has narrowed the gap, which is exactly what he did in the medal round at states as he was edged by a slim, 2-1 margin.
Along the way, Steffenino posted a win over a returning state medalist in Central York's Dylan Chatterton (a 3-0 decision in his first consolation match). Hontz called it Steffenino's "finest match of the entire postseason." He went on to earn a spot in the medal round after Chris Thompson (Philipsbug-Osceola) forfeited due to injury; followed by a 3-1 overtime setback to Northampton's Mike Scheetz. Steffenino dropped his opening match on Thursday to eventual champion Spencer Lee (Franklin Regional), who posted two technical falls, a pin and major decision in the title match to secure gold.
"He walked a tightrope throughout the entire run and beat some very good wrestlers to reach his goal of medaling at Hershey," Hontz said. "He without a doubt earned that medal. He then wrestled two more tense matches, which were both toss-ups, otherwise he may have even medaled higher."
For Hontz, placing a state medal on Steffenino's neck may be the last time he will do so. Before finals, Hontz said he took one last stroll around the arena as he was flooded with a wave of memories. Memories that included coaching a state medalist as a 22-year-old kid; getting shut out by Bald Eagle Area in the Tribe's first state duals championships; the disappointment of Derek Zinck's final; the buzz in the arena whenever Marky Smith would take the mat; and watching "some great kids" get the opportunity to compete at Hershey like Ryan Garner, Bobby Fieger and Mikey Berlanda, and "the thrill of seeing Darren Kern make the finals only to suffer the same fate as Zinck and myself."
Hontz said he was also reminded of the elation felt with Chris Sheetz's gold medal, and the now-legendary Nazareth semifinal match, followed by two state titles in one day as Zach Kemmerer and Brent Fiorito both won in rideout, and a later gold medal at states by Kemmerer. That was followed by three trips to Hershey by Wolfgang McStravick, and one last medal for Steffenino.
"The highs and lows of this sport are incredible," Hontz said. "And when you think of my personal experiences it really was pretty amazing. I really think I'm sort of in denial that I won't be back coaching at the Giant Center in some capacity. Who knows what the future holds? I hope that maybe I'll feel that excitement and nervous feeling again, but for now we turn the page and get ready for the excitement of Friday night football."