By Frank Foreman
Generations of rich wrestling tradition flowed into Meadville’s House of Thrills on Thursday night, as former Bulldog wrestlers spanning five decades returned for an anniversary celebration.
The current version of the Bulldogs gave them plenty of reasons to celebrate.
With 37 former grapplers watching over the current crop of Meadville wrestling, the Bulldogs fittingly took care of business on the mat, defeating Strong Vincent 51-16 in a Region 4 tilt on a night when Meadville wrestling celebrated 50 years of tradition.
The evening was a successful one on many levels for Meadville wrestling, as current head coach Barry Anderson, a former Meadville wrestler and part of the post-match celebration, was well aware of what Thursday night meant for the program.
“We put this 50th year celebration together and the alumni responded,” Anderson said. “To have the older gentlemen here to watch, I think they were impressed with what they saw. A lot of the kids listened to what they had to say.”
While Anderson took in the memorable night, the evening proved to be a special one for Pat McHenry as well, a former Meadville wrestling coach who was involved with the program at nearly every age level spanning 15 years. McHenry coached Anderson, along with countless other Meadville wrestlers during the 1970s and 80s, and made it quite clear that Thursday night was a special occasion.
“I never left this place,” McHenry said looking around the gymnasium following the match. “Coming back and seeing the kids now, who are all grown up, it’s great. This was a family event.”
The 2013-14 version of the Bulldogs wasted little time putting on a show, as the most anticipated bout of the night started the evening.
Meadville’s Louis Crawford and Strong Vincent’s Chris Starocci took part in a double-overtime thriller at 170 pounds, with Starocci pulling out the 5-4 decision with seconds remaining in the match.
Following a scoreless first period, Crawford escaped to start the second and scored a takedown to take a 3-0 lead. Starocci responded with a reversal to make it 3-2 in favor of Crawford after two periods. Starocci quickly escaped from the down position to start the third, locking the score at 3-3, where it would stay even throughout the first overtime.
During the second overtime, Starocci was unable to escape during his 30 seconds on the mat, allowing a golden opportunity for Crawford to pick up a win. Crawford responded with an escape during his trip to the mat, but uncharacteristically gave up a takedown with just seconds remaining, allowing Starocci to win the thriller.
“The first match of the night was the premier match. Those two are always real tight when they wrestle,” Anderson said. “We were up with 21 seconds left and I’m thinking we have it won. But to Starocci’s credit, he kept going at him.”
Meadville picked up a win via forfeit at 182 pounds to take the lead, and the Bulldogs would never trail again, as a double forfeit at 220 pounds was followed by a pin at heavyweight in favor of Meadville.
Luke Carr, who moved up to heavyweight for the bout, did the most with his opportunity and pinned Kevin Richardson in 3:20.
At 120 pounds, Meadville’s Aaron Ehrgott put together a solid match, moving up to face tough competition in the form of Josh Caban. Ehrgott and Caban were all square at 4-4 to start the third period when Ehrgott escaped with 25 seconds left on the clock, and dodged a pair of last-ditch efforts from Caban to secure the victory.
The Bulldogs’ Derek Ridgeway pinned Gary Williams in 4:11 at 145 pounds, and Cameron DeMaison pinned Kane Patron with one tick left in the third period at 160 pounds in the final match of the night to give Meadville the commanding victory.
Other Meadville winners included Atayvius Newsome at 113 pounds, Brock Ridgeway at 132 pounds and Zach Byers at 220 pounds, all by forfeit.
Strong Vincent’s victories came from Carmine Ciotti (106 pounds), Giovonni Ciotti (138) and Jared Carlson (152).
“Overall I was pretty pleased with what I saw tonight,” Anderson said.
Following the match, all of the Meadville wrestling alumni took to the floor and were introduced individually. With a strong turnout of alumni in attendance, Anderson said that the night was important not just for the former wrestlers’ recognition, but for Meadville wrestling as a whole.
“This storied program took a step forward tonight,” Anderson said. “We had a lot of people show up. Wrestling, more than any other sport, is a family, and tonight it was an extended family.”