Joe Stolfi wants to be like Mike.
The last time Souderton wrestling claimed a state champion was 1988, the year Mike Salon helped himself to the 145-pound division. When his career as an Indian concluded, Salon headed to Bucknell, where he wrestled in Division I.
Stolfi, a senior wrestler at Souderton, is already set for college. When his career as an Indian concludes, he'll head to Bucknell, where he'll wrestle on an athletic scholarship.
Coming off a junior season in which he placed fourth in Pennsylvania in the 215-pound weight class and went 38-4 overall, Stolfi wants to end the 23-year drought. Anything less than the state title won't satisfy him.
Stolfi wants to give Souderton wrestling another story to tell. He wants to be like Mike.
The 6-foot-1 Stolfi took to wrestling as a 6-year-old. He's a big, physical guy working a sport that pits two individuals in combat. Stolfi says his nature is to be aggressive. But on the mat, his approach is also cerebral.
"I understand momentum, the whole sort of physics aspects of it," Stolfi said, analyzing his mat tactics. "My mentality is I'm always looking at the hips, looking at the feet. I'm always looking for a shot."
Chat with Stolfi, and it's clear he's a thinker. He'll be aggressive, but he'll have reason. That's why, for instance, he likes to attack the head. It's the weakest part of the body, he said.
"He's an intelligent person, and it makes him an intelligent wrestler," Stan Smith, who's been coaching at Souderton for 29 years, said of Stolfi, who ranks academically in the top 40 in a senior class of more than 600.
"He's a very fast learner. He pays attention. He picks things up faster than the average wrestler."
When Stolfi was a freshman, Smith recalled seeing more potential in others in Stolfi's class. But over the years, Stolfi has developed into one of the more impressive wrestlers to go through the Indians' program. As a freshman, he went to regionals. As a sophomore, he qualified for states. Last year, in addition to placing fourth in the state, Stolfi won both the District 1 championship and the Southeast regional title in the 215-pound bracket.
He is 40 wins shy of becoming Souderton's all-time wins leader, a record that stands at 135. Individually, the aspirations are soaring high. Stolfi wants to go undefeated this season. And he wants to break that school record, and he'll need three more wins than he earned all of last year to do so.
But for the Souderton program as a whole, things may be a little shaky. Turnout for this year's team was low, and Smith said he might have to forfeit two of the 14 classes the entire year because he's unable to fill the roster. The coach is at a loss as to why.
There's "no rhyme or reason. Sometimes it just happens," the coach said.
Last season, the Indians were 6-1 in the Suburban One League Continental Conference, which was good enough for second place. It may be difficult to replicate that success this year with a shortened roster, but Stolfi remains optimistic.
"Our team is relatively strong at the weights we do have," he said. "Instead of having a lot of wrestlers who aren't as experienced and not as talented, we have not as many wrestlers who are more talented."
If the team can get a lot of pins and the bonus points that accompany them, Stolfi said Souderton can go undefeated in the league.
Not many people know about Salon and the potential parallel story that Stolfi is playing out. Unless Smith mentions it, the story appears lost in the Souderton community, and Stolfi said he had no idea about Salon until after he committed to Bucknell.
For now, Smith calls it a coincidence. But if Stolfi can transform his season's ambitions into sweet reality, maybe it will go down as one of the great tales in Souderton wrestling history. Maybe then more people will know the story.
"It doesn't mean anything yet," Stolfi said. "We'll see if it's a coincidence by the end of the year."
Here are some wrestlers and teams to watch this season:
Joe Stolfi, Souderton, senior. Stolfi placed fourth in the 215-pound weight class at last season's state tournament. He's signed a letter of intent to wrestle at Division I Bucknell next season, but anything short of a state title would be considered a failure for Stolfi and his coaches. He's lost just 11 matches in the last two seasons and is the reigning District 1 champ in his weight class.
Brett Harner, Norristown, sophomore. Harner, the son of head coach Mark Harner, wrestles at 160 pounds and medaled at states as a freshman. According to his father/coach, Brett is ranked fifth in the nation among 10th graders in his weight class. Harner was 45-8 last year and is likely to be one of Norristown's best wrestlers again in 2010. The sky is the limit for the young but accomplished Harner.
Corey McQuiston, West Chester Rustin, junior. As a sophomore, he went 43-4 in the 112-pound weight class and is projected as the division's top wrestler in the preseason. McQuiston's 43 wins a year ago was fourth best in District 1 and ultimately qualified him for the state tournament.
John Staudenmayer, Plymouth Whitemarsh, senior. In three years at the varsity level, Staudenmayer has amassed a 126-11 record and .920 win percentage. Last season in the 160-pound weight class, he was 42-3 overall and placed third in the state for Class AAA. As a senior, Staudenmayer moves up a weight class to 171 pounds.
Joe Mazzi, La Salle, senior. Mazzi helped La Salle to a fifth-place finish in the state for Class AAA a year ago. This year, he will wrestle in the 119-pound weight class. Mazzi has a 94-15 career mark, posting a career-high 44 wins last season.
Brandan Clark, Methacton, senior. After Stolfi, Clark is top dog in the 215 weight class. Clark fell to Stolfi in the quarters of last year's state tourney but rebounded to place seventh overall and medal at the event. Clark has 102 career wins and averages 34 wins per season.
John Bolich, Upper Moreland, senior. Bolich went 39-5 as a junior, medaling at states with a seventh-place finish in the 160-pound weight division. He helped Upper Moreland to a second-place overall finish in District 1 Section 1. Bolich will be the 189-pound favorite in his senior year in the district.
Billy Rappo, Council Rock South, junior. Rappo steadily progressed his first two seasons, improving to 36-17 last year after a .500 rookie campaign. Now, in the 103-pound weight class, Rappo seems poised to be the division's favorite after a strong showing at states, where he lost in the quarterfinals.
Council Rock South, 11-5 overall, 5-0 Suburban One National last season.
The Hawks lost some talent but are still fitted to be the region's favorite this season after finishing fourth in the state as a team in 2009-10. Seniors Matt Rappo (135-pound weight class) and Matt Martoccio (145 pounds) both come off junior seasons in which they posted more than 40 wins and eight or fewer losses and claimed medals at the state tournament. State champ Josh Dziewa graduated, but South looks as formidable as any in District 1.
La Salle, 15-2, 5-0 Catholic League last season. The Explorers placed fifth in the state in Class AAA last season after claiming the District 12 AAA Sectional crown and placing second in the Southeast Regional. La Salle again figures to be the top dog in its district and will likely be relevant again at the state level.
West Chester Rustin, 11-2, 7-0 Chest-Mont American last season. The defending Ches-Mont American champs lost just seven wrestlers from its roster of more than 30 and return strong talent. The young McQuiston is the Golden Knights' most heralded standout, but Evan Harkin is in the top five in District 1 in the 119-pound weight class. Junior Kyle Hoch will be one of the best at 160 pounds.
Boyertown, 23-7, 9-0 PAC-10 last season. The Bears were District 1 Class AAA Section 4 champs last season behind an undefeated PAC-10 record and took third place at the Southeast Regional. Boyertown again looks strong, with Jeremy Minich (a state qualifier last season at 130 pounds); Jon Neiman (160-pound division); and Zach Heffner, another state qualifier at 215, leading the way.
Council Rock North, 11-5, 3-1 Suburban One National last season. Like its South counterpart, the Indians lost a state champion from a year ago in Jamie Callender. Still, North claims several wrestlers who are among the best in the area, including Adam Slezak (119 pounds), Shane Longstreth (125 pounds and state medalist last season), and John Dutrow (130 pounds and also a medalist).
Norristown, 12-3, 6-0 Suburban One American last season. After going undefeated and winning the Suburban One American title last season, two of Norristown's key wrestlers (Jesse Prante and Matt Grill) opted not to return to the squad as seniors. Head coach Mark Harner will look to three wrestlers to pick up the slack: his son Brett; Brandon Parker, a two-time state qualifier wrestling in 152-pound division; and up-and-coming, 135-pound freshman Mike Springer, who figures to be one of the best first-year wrestlers in the region and whom Harner believes could medal at states this year. - Evan Burgos