Whatever it takes, in whatever it takes, Strath Haven High junior wrestling captains Chase Barlow and Kelton Brunner know how to uplift teammates and have fun doing it.
Down a small handful of bodies, the Panthers battled to the last man over the weekend in finishing behind only perennial titlist Garnet Valley in the Central League wrestling championships.
Strath Haven wouldn’t have gotten there without Barlow and Brunner, who fought their way to the medal stand along with senior captains Charlie Dawes and Gabe Federico, Simon Bolinger, Anthony Crawford, Gabe Broome, Galvan Gihunia and Alex Heminway.
Barlow won his third straight CAL wrestling crown, pinning all three of his opponents before the third period. For the second time, he was the outstanding wrestler at the meet. Barlow and his coach, Anthony Gilliano, cannot wait for the district tournament just two weekends away.
“Chase is on a different level right now and it showed at Centrals,” Gilliano said. “Chase was levels, levels above everybody else. His mind is in a good place and he’s wrestling at an extremely high level. You see the biggest jump from 10th grade to 11th grade in terms of success. He’s really taken a significant jump from his sophomore year to junior year.”
Broome, who took gold at 113 pounds, is the only Panthers freshman besides Barlow to win a CAL title. His upside is enormous.
Barlow can see himself in Broome, who has a lot of the same qualities that drew him to wrestling. Broome rallied for four points in the third period to fight his way back from a 3-0 deficit in the championship bout.
“He’s gotten better, and if he fixes up just a couple things, he’ll be a lot better,” Barlow said. “But he’s good. He can take a bad shot and have enough drive and motivation to finish it.”
Barlow and Brunner have taken on a leadership role as the COVID-ravaged season has gone on. What Gilliano appreciates most about the Panthers, from the leadership all the way down the roster, is the work ethic. He let them know after the CAL championships how pleased he was they not only battled to the end but had the stamina to do it.
“We were the toughest team in that gym, and we were the most in shape,” Gilliano said. “And that goes a long way. It’s what we preach.”
What Gilliano wasn’t prepared for at the tournament were questions about the shirtless muscle pose playfully struck by Barlow and Brunner following a snowstorm. It found its way into their personal Twitter feeds. Turns out the guys were lifting weights on their own when they just needed to get a breath of fresh air. The tweet was a hit.
“I came to find out the picture was from a couple of months ago, the first snowstorm, not the most recent,” Gilliano said. “So, I started asking them all these questions, like, ‘are you guys lumberjacks?’ I was giving them a hard time. … You have different types of captains. You have the vocal leader. You have the one who’s kind of quiet and just sets the tone. We have an array of those, and it helps our team.”
With the districts, and probably more on the horizon, Barlow and Brunner don’t have time to do much besides set the tone by training.
Barlow is 11-0 this season and 78-19 in his career. Pandemic or not, he’s locked in on becoming just the second Panther to medal at states, joining John Crawford, who was sixth at 160 pounds in 2019. Districts are going to be a challenge because COVID protocols will limit the size of the field.
“It’s going to be a lot tougher than it was in the past because there are only going to be eight-man brackets,” Barlow said. “There are no fans allowed. The competition is going to be tougher because the brackets are smaller, and all eight kids are going to be tough. Only the top four make it out. Fifth place is no good this year.”
Barlow would rather do anything than watch video of his last trip to the states. He came this close to occupying the medal stand having lost to a wrestler he beat in the tournament.
This year, Barlow is chilling, thanks in no small part to Brunner and his Panthers teammates. It’s safe to say they got some feedback from their post-lift photo, a tasteful shot featuring trees, snow and stocking caps. A little levity never hurt anybody.
“It was one of the big snowstorms,” Barlow said. “We just thought it was a tough picture. Kind of savage, you know? It wasn’t practice-related. It was after a lift. Yeah, (we heard) about it.”
In other Central League action:
Garnet Valley 52, Harriton 14 >> All-Delco Griffin Hollingsworth hit a major milestone in his high school career. The GV senior registered his 100th win with a 14-4 major decision over Brennan Kramp at 132 pounds.
Francis Reagan (113) won by fall in 45 seconds for the Jags. Other GV wrestlers to record pins included Shane Layer (126), Daniel Husain (138), Christopher Wood (145), Desmon Perry (172) and Sam DiTrolio (189).
Penncrest 21, Radnor 9 >> Nikko Partsanakis (145), Dylan Dejong (152) and Liam Stauffer (189) recorded pins for the Lions. Rodrigo Perez-Gasiba won by decision at 172 pounds.
For Radnor, Gabe Vanderver won by fall at 120 and Akahi Heywood got a decision at 106.