Zephyrs give Stroudsburg a battle
It wasn’t going to be an easy task, but the Whitehall wrestling team looked to takedown Stroudsburg last Thursday night.
Stroudsburg is a team that sits a notch below Eastern Pennsylvania Conference powerhouses Bethlehem Catholic, Nazareth and Northampton. They were 11-5 heading into the match against the Zephs, and had recently defeated Emmaus by three points.
The Zephyrs managed to earn bonus points in all their wins, but lost some tough tossup matches as the Mounties took 10 of the 14 bouts to win 51-23.
The match began favorably for the Zephyrs with Nate Mendez recording a fall in the second period at 126. He built a 6-1 lead before decking Muhammad Ansari in 3:08.
With the Zephs holding a 6-0 lead, Xavier Arner met Patrick Noonan at 132. Noonan is one of the Mounties who can capture district and regional titles. Noonan got a first period takedown, and built on that to take a 5-0 lead once the second period ended. He expanded on that lead in the third period, eventually using his takedown skills for a 11-2 win.
Lenny Pinto is their other candidate who can lay claim to a title. He recently reached the century mark in wins at Escape the Rock wrestling tournament last weekend. Mike Hernandez gave Pinto a good battle, eventually succumbing to a fall in the second period.
After Noonan’s win to cut the lead to 6-4, the Zephyrs came charging back as Tyler Cunningham used his strength on his feet to build an early 11-3, scoring back points on a near fall as well. He continued to dominate on his feet, earning a tech fall over Owen Ciesiak at 138.
But the Mounties would win nine of the next ten bouts to cement their lead.
Breaking that streak was Kai Clark who gave up an early takedown, but quickly reversed Basil Damra, eventually pinning him in 1:38. Clark, who wrestles at 160, said that heading into the match, head coach Tim Cunningham stressed that they needed to stay aggressive and score points. It was a message that Clark took to heart.
“He just said never back down,” said Clark. “And I feel like every wrestler went out there and did what they had to do.”
While the outcome wasn’t what they wanted, he said it was a good team effort.
Clark’s mentality is to keep moving forward. Even after Damra took him down, he wasn’t going to let that setback define the match. He wasn’t going to hold back.
“My whole mentality was to go out there and give it my all,” said Clark. “No matter what happened, that’s what I was going to do.”
He said last year he lost a really close match to Stroudsburg, losing by a point, and didn’t want a repeat of that outcome. While Clark didn’t face the wrestler who handed him that loss, he said he still “went out there with the same vengeance and got the W” he wanted.
Clark is having an exceptional senior season. His whole focus this year was to make it to the regional tournament, and hopefully states.
“It’s my last year, I got to go out with a bang,” said Clark.
Clark knows the competition at 160 is tough. He’s faced some of the top tier wrestlers at the Beast of the East, as well as the Bethlehem Holiday Wrestling Classic. He knows he has his work cut out for him, but those are the matches he’s looking forward to in the postseason.
“It allows me to see where I stand and what I can do out there,” he said.
He nearly made the cut last season, and this year he wants to make sure he’s among the top five in his weight class. That’s his goal.
The match also featured some controversy. At 220, Randy Okungu appeared to get the go-ahead takedown at the edge of the mat with about 20 seconds left in the final period. Okungu, who was trailing by a point, needed to score against Julian Sparks for the win, and his spin around takedown seemed to accomplish that as time was winding down. But as soon as the call was made, Stroudsburg head coach Sean Richmond went to the table to dispute the official’s call, and after some deliberation between the two, the call was reversed. When the match resumed, Sparks got in on a leg and took Okungu down for the win. Cunningham approached the table, indicating his protest to the decision and forfeited the match.
Cunningham said that was the first time he’s ever seen a coach change the mind of an official at the table. Still, it wasn’t going to take away from their effort that evening.
“I felt like some of our guys are making progress and continuing to improve on the mat,” said Cunningham. “We need all the guys to make daily improvements as a team in order for us to continue to make progress as a team.
“Stroudsburg is a tough team and I give them the credit they deserve as they wrestled a great match.”