The Last of a Vanishing breed? 100-win grapplers Cappella, Spack lead Chucks into Districts

PUNXSUTAWNEY โ€” Because of limitations on the number of matches high school wrestlers are able to participate in each season, it was only within the last six years that Punxsy saw its first 100-win wrestler in Matt Means, who graduated in 2006. Means finished his career with 110 wins.

Last year, 2011 graduate Kody Young joined Means in the 100-win club and surpassed Means' win total to become the winningest wrestler in PAHS history with 144 individual victories.

This season, two Punxsy grapplers joined the 100-win club, in seniors Neko Cappella and Seth Spack.

Cappella was the first to eclipse 100 wins this season while the Chucks were at the Wheeling Park Duals Dec. 28-29.

Cappella finished the tournament a perfect 7-0 en route to reaching the personal milestone.

Spack joined his senior teammate in the 100-win club with a victory against Redbank Valley Jan. 17. Since then, he has been on a tear, winning 11 matches, including a victory over DuBois' Shane Marshall that gave Spack his 111th win, surpassing Means' 110.

Cappella sits just two wins behind Spack and one behind Means, giving him the opportunity to secure the No. 3 spot and vie for the No. 2 spot with Spack this weekend and throughout the postseason.

Unfortunately, anticipated rule changes could mean Spack and Cappella's feat may be tough for future Chucks' wrestlers to achieve.

"They're talking about lowering the points system," Punxsy head coach Eric Eddy said. "So, tournaments would cost more points, and you can't wrestle as many matches that year."

Eddy said the rule has good intentions, but in the end, it probably won't serve its purpose as well as it could.

"Where they're coming from is, out east, some schools come into the state tournament with 50 or so matches, where guys from this area may come in with 30 to 35 matches, max," Eddy said. I'm afraid we're the ones who'll be punished for it, though. It'll cut them down into the 40s, but it'll probably cut us into the 20s. It's probably going to be a nothing gained kind of thing. They'll get slightly fewer matches, and we'll get fewer matches, so it'll kind of even out."

Eddy also noted that it will still be possible, given the amount of matches an individual will see, to surpass the 100-win mark. It'll just be much more difficult.

He said sophomore Joel Bowers is in a position where there is still a realistic possibility of meeting the milestone and noted other wrestlers, like Kaleb Young โ€” Kody's younger brother, who hasn't broken into the high school ranks yet โ€” could still make a run at triple digits.

While the two seniors, Spack and Cappella, have reached one personal milestone, their goal of reaching states this season still lies ahead of them with the first step taking place today at the District IX Individual Wrestling Championships at Clarion University.

Cappella is Punxsy's representative at 132 pounds, the lower end of the middleweight spectrum.

He enters the tournament with a 17-7 record and will be the No. 2 seed behind Bradford's Zach Britton, who finished the season 26-2.

Despite the disparity in their records, Cappella lost a very close 1-0 decision to Britton when Bradford visited Punxsy Feb. 14.

Eddy said he'd love to see a rematch between the pair, but also noted Cappella can't look beyond his first-round bout against No. 3 seed Alex Coudriet, of St. Marys.

"That's a very tight matchup," Eddy said. "What has to happen in a tournament like this, though, is Neko has to make sure he doesn't try to look past Coudriet. He needs to go in with the mindset that his only goal is to beat Coudriet. Then he'll get that rematch with Britton."

Eddy also noted Britton will be a difficult challenge for Cappella. But he also said anything can happen in one match, and he'd like to see it.

"Zach's a tough competitor no matter what," Eddy said. "He's strong, and he's experienced. I mean, he's a heck of a wrestler, but I'd definitely like to see the rematch for the District IX title."

Spack is on the other end of the middleweight spectrum at 160 pounds, and he will be Punxsy's only No. 1 seed entering the tournament, with senior Carl Langley being bumped from the 170-pound roost late in the season.

Spack was 22-3 on the season and will face the winner of the pigtail match between Bradford's Dustin Coles (8-17) and Clearfield's Mike Beck (2-16).

On the other side of the bracket is DuBois' No. 2 seeded Mike Kennelly and St. Marys' Alex Feldbauer, who enters the No. 3 seed.

Eddy said with Spack and Kennelly not having a head to head matchup, Spack was given the No. 1 seed with no argument. But he also noted Kennelly would have been a viable candidate for the spot.

"Without a head to head matchup, no one argued the seeding, but it's one of those things where the seeding doesn't always matter," Eddy said. "Seth won a district title in 10th grade, and he was seeded third in that tournament. So anything can happen (today)."

When Punxsy faced the Beavers Feb. 16, Spack and Kennelly both earned pinfalls, and Eddy said he would have rather seen the two wrestle each other. But he's confident in his well-tuned senior, too.

"I don't like going into it without the head to head, but Seth's an experienced wrestler," he said. "I'm sure he knows what Kennelly does, and he may have even wrestled him before."

In between the seniors, Punxsy has a pair of younger grapplers in freshman Perry Arrington at 138 pounds and junior Caesar Maruca at 145.

Arrington enters the tournament seeded No. 2 at 138 pounds in a unique class that has three freshmen and one senior, No. 1 seeded Sam Miller, of St. Marys.

Arrington's record is significantly better than his first-round opponent, Clearfield's Jake Lancaster, but Eddy cautioned that any Clearfield grappler can't be looked past in any round.

"I don't think anybody in the district is better at pre-paring wrestlers for the postseason than Clearfield's (coach Jeff) Aveni," Eddy said. "So the record at this point is kind of irrelevant. Once Aveni gets his guys there, you can throw records out the window. Our goal is to go into that semi-final and get the victory to move into the finals. That way, anything that happens is gravy."

Miller finished the season 20-10, and again, Punxsy has no head to head against the No. 1 seed, as Arrington was out of Punxsy's lineup when the Chucks hosted the Dutch Feb. 8. While Eddy knows Miller is tough, he also isn't counting out his young wrestler, either.

"We don't have that head to head because Perry wasn't in our lineup then," Eddy said. "But Neko Cappella got a close 2-0 victory over Miller, so we know Miller is a tough, tough wrestler. But if Perry is able to make it to the finals to meet him, Perry's style will give anybody fits."

Maruca enters the tournament as the No. 4 seed in what Eddy called "one of the tougher District IX brackets this year," at 145 pounds.

Clearfield's Nolan Barger is the No. 1 seed with a 25-3 overall record, and former D-IX champion Tom Sleigh, of DuBois, is seeded No. 2.

Maruca's opening-round matchup will pit him against St. Marys' Tyler Yetzer, the No. 5 seed, for the right to face Barger in the semis.

"That 145-pound weight class is a tough, tough weight class," Eddy said. "For Caesar to get out of districts, he really has to get past Yetzer first. If he can get past him, anything could happen in those wrestle backs. Even with Sleigh being a defending champion, he could lose a match and then feel like things are going wrong."

AAA action will begin with the quarterfinals round at 10 a.m.

Many of the brackets only include three or four wrestlers, though, and thus the semi-finals, which will begin at 12:30 p.m. will be the first time many of the classes see the mat.

The consolation finals will take place at 5:30 p.m., and the District Championship finals will start at 6:30 p.m.

Eddy's final thoughts on the tournament echoed something the Punxsy coaches have been teaching since the beginning of the season: Preparedness, as one slip up could cost any grappler a match, and thus a chance at advancing to regionals.

"It's definitely important to come out and be ready right from that opening whistle," Eddy said.