Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

SPORTS >> A near-miracle

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

If they handed out state wrestling championships purely on success rates, North Pulaski would hold the title today. As it is, the Falcons will have to be content to be state runners-up in the 1A-5A division.

The Falcons, along with their coaches and parents, are more than content with the finish; they’re thrilled — not only with the second-place medal but with the fact that all eight of their wrestlers finished in the top six and three won their weight categories.

“It was phenomenal really,” said North Pulaski head coach Tony Mongno, who was able to fill only eight of the 14 weight divisions at the state meet last weekend at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock. “They went in there and really bought into it. They wrestled their very best. All of them were so happy, it’s unbelievable.

“(189-pound wrestler) Vinnie Osmun didn’t stop smiling for two or three hours after he got that medal.”

Osmun, along with Jonathan Buzzitta in the 119-pound division and Tony Mongno (130) won titles for North Pulaski, which was edged out by CAC by 26 points. CAC, though, had every weight division represented, as did most of the top 10 teams in the first-ever Arkansas Activities Association-sanctioned state meet. Beebe finished fourth, while Sylvan Hills was 14th and Harding Academy 17th.

Tony Buzzitta, Jonathan’s father and a part-time volunteer for the Falcons the past two seasons, compared the Falcons’ finish to a movie.

“Really, it was like five kids at the playground getting together to go win an NBA championship,” he said. “I don’t think any other team had all of their wrestlers finish in the medals. The coaches have done a tremendous job with these kids and every kid just wrestled tremendously.”

In the 6-7A state meet, Cabot finished fifth. Cody Ealy won his second-consecutive state title wrestling in the 125-pound class.

“Cody is just a great wrestler,” said Cabot coach Brandon Jay of the Wisconsin move-in. He was just head and shoulders above everybody else.”

Ealy finished his two-year career as a Panther 35-0, but received perhaps his best competition in his final match. He narrowly decisioned Catholic High’s Michael Reynolds, 10-8.

“It probably wasn’t quite as close as that score,” Jay said. “But it was a great final match for him.”

Bentonville once again won the 6-7A meet, followed by Heritage, Catholic and Central. The Panthers, who also finished fifth a year ago, were hoping for a better finish and got off to a sterling start on Friday night. Jay said they opened with eight or nine straight wins, then lost the next nine.

“It put a lot of people in consolation matches we didn’t think would be there,” he said. “But we came back to finish strong at the end. We’re still a young team with four ninth-graders and some sophomores who were in their first state tournament.”
First-timer Chad Hankins made a great showing, taking home a third-place in the 152-pound division. Not so fortunate was defending champion Chavin Scales, who lost to archrival Tanner Mann of Central in the semifinals and finished fifth.

For North Pulaski, Adolphe Stephens was one of two Falcons to reach the championship round but came up short. Stephens lost to Beebe’s Sammy Williams on a 4-3 decision. Jared Pflasterer lost in a fall to Gentry’s Connor Willett.

Other Falcons who finished in the points were Jacob McClain (fourth in the 125-pound division); Dylan Sheffield (fourth at 215); and Jacob Sowell (sixth at 145).

North Pulaski’s showing didn’t escape the notice of fellow coaches at the event.

“Pretty much non-stop someone was stopping me to talk about our team and the kids,” Mongno said. “They were wowed by what we did.”

Mongno, who spent 10 years in submission wrestling, credits the help of volunteer coaches Chris Valliere and Roli Delgado. For the Falcons to get to that next level, though, Mongno needs to fill the other weight slots, he said. He hopes the showing last weekend will draw attention from other athletes and from the athletic department.

“Hopefully, this will generate some interest,” he said. “It’s a great sport and it gives the 103-pound kid who’s too small to play football and basketball a chance to compete. That kid can be a great wrestler.”

North Pulaski had 11 wrestlers competing last year. The Falcons had nine to open this season, though Mongno’s daughter, Mariah, broke her collarbone and missed the latter part of the year. Sixteen came out this year, but several quit.

“A lot of them just can’t take the extreme physical conditioning,” Mongno said. “Six minutes may not sound like a lot but six minutes of hard wrestling really takes it out of you.”

The Falcons lose only Phlasterer and Sheffield to graduation.

Beebe’s Josh Freeman (103 pounds), Ross Stroud (215) and Williams all won titles in their weight divisions.

Despite the disappointment at the Panthers’ finish, Jay remains hopeful for the future of not only Cabot, but of central Arkansas wrestling. Bentonville and northwest Arkansas has been dominant the first two seasons.

“We’re physically stronger down here,” Jay said. “But their technique always takes over. We hope to get more football players involved. It really helps the larger players with their balance and coordination.”