The Fox Chapel Area boys wrestling team just accomplished something that 52 teams before them were never able to do – win a section championship.
The team, which is undefeated in Section 1 and has an overall record of 13-1, is now preparing for the first round of the WPIAL Class 3A team championships. The competition begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday, January 31, when the team faces Peters Township at Connellsville Area High School.
On A Mission
It’s been evident all season – from the moment the group enters the gymnasium for warmups to the energetic, intense classic rock song “Welcome to the Jungle” (by Guns N’ Roses) that the Foxes are determined to take care of business.
Reaching this first postseason target is something the team set as its goal at the end of last season, says senior co-captain Josh Alexander (145 pounds).
“Most of our team wrestled throughout the entire summer and fall to prepare us for this season,” Josh says. “We have a special bond that not many other teams have. More than half of the starting lineup has been wrestling together since we were in elementary school. That can create amazing success at a high level of wrestling.”
Junior D’Angelo Hamilton (285 pounds) adds, “To be a part of the first team to win a section championship in (more than) 50 years … to me it means that nobody wanted it more than us; it means that nobody was putting in those extra hours, such as staying after practice, really pushing yourself whenever it matters, whenever the whole team is tired, and still running that last sprint.”
On his journey to success, D’Angelo says Coach Michael Frank has taught him about toughness and not giving up.
“Something Coach Mike says that I will always remember is, ‘Nobody cares if you’re tired,’ ” says D’Angelo. “That is what I say to myself whenever I’m so tired, but then I remember how badly I wanted us to win the section and how much I want our team to succeed as a whole.”
Road to the Title
The fourth-year head coach said he realized that taking sole ownership of the top ranking was within reach after the team dominated Shaler Area, 55-14.
“After the match, we knew we had the section title secured, but we really wanted to go undefeated in section matches,” says the coach. “We knew that we had an important job to do against Central Catholic, and we did that. It was a really special night. We had an awesome crowd at the match, got to honor our youth wrestling team, and celebrate with individuals and families that have been part of this program for a very long time.”
Alex Kaufmann, also a senior co-captain, says the growth of the program since he was in ninth grade is remarkable.
“The team has really grown since my freshman year,” says Alex, who wrestles at 152 pounds. “It’s crazy to think that I finished my freshman year with not even a full team, and now we have an incredibly deep team that is the best in the section. I attribute the numbers to the youth program and all the guys that have come from that and reunited together for one final year.
“I have been wrestling since third grade and have not stopped since. I’ve met some amazing coaches and teammates that I am still close with today. I am so incredibly fortunate to be able to compete with those same teammates and for those same coaches for one final year. It’s special how everything has come full circle.”
Coach Frank knows his team is hungry for more success at their first postseason matchup. In addition to Josh, D’Angelo, and Alex, the Foxes enter the tournament with strong leadership from junior Landon Funk, who won the Allegheny County Wrestling Championship in the 114-pound weight class and owns the record for most team points so far this year. Junior Michael Worsen is close behind in points, has the Foxes’ best record this year, and has registered the most falls. Juniors Youssef Abdelsalam, Milo Chiu, and Jack Viti, and sophomores Joey Geller and DJ Noel also are expected to provide significant contributions.
“I’m extremely proud of this group of young men for the work they’ve put in and what they’ve accomplished, but they aren’t satisfied yet, and I’m really glad to hear that,” coach Frank says.