John Knebels

Sports Columnist

When the Catholic League wrestling playoffs began, the only debate centered on which team would eventually finish as runner-up.

The champion? That was a foregone conclusion.

So on Feb. 2, inside their own gymnasium, it came as no surprise that the La Salle Explorers celebrated their third consecutive league title and fourth in the last six years. La Salle defeated Monsignor Bonner 53-20 in a match that finished in less than an hour. {{more}}

“Winning never gets boring,” said La Salle senior Joe Mazzi, who late in the season eclipsed 2010 graduate C.J. Burns to become the school’s all-time leader in career victories. “We have a lot of talent and everyone expected us to win.”

That doesn’t mean the championship wasn’t special to the Explorers, especially those – like Mazzi – who had contributed to the past three titles.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Mazzi said. “It’s something that we will always look back on and know that we did something really special.”

Two days later the Explorers then went on to capture the District 12 championship for the third straight year. They later advanced to the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class AAA state tournament before losing a hard-fought match against Central Dauphin of District 3. They also lost in a state consolation match by two points. Inspanidual tournaments begin this Saturday.

Losing, Mazzi said, was sort of a shock because of the way La Salle had dominated its opposition for the previous few months. But he and his teammates were fully aware that their competition in the state meet would no longer mirror the many overmatched foes they had faced en route to the Catholic League championship.

“Winning states would have been great,” said Mazzi, who in the league championship recorded a pin at 135 pounds. “Not winning states doesn’t take away from what we accomplished during the season.”

While a 53-20 score would seem to most like a complete blowout, Monsignor Bonner had reason to celebrate because it was the most points that La Salle had allowed against any Catholic League opponent this year.

The Friars, who recorded a pin during the final event of the match to stun Father Judge 42-36 in the semifinals, emerged from their defeat a proud team.

“I’m very proud,” said Bonner coach Phil Carbonetta. “Our goal was to make it to the finals and we did that. We lost to a great team in the championship.”

At 215, Marcus Collins recorded a pin for the Friars, who also received a pin from Ryan Kiefer at 119 and decisions from Tom Flynn at 130 and Ben Center at 145.

For the victorious Explorers, Shane Springer (160), P.J. Steinmetz (189) and Mazzi recorded pins while teammates Nick Burns (171), Roger Woerhle (125), Matt Cimato (140) and Mike Bowen (152) also notched wins. La Salle added victories at 103, 112 and 285 via forfeit.

Equipped with his fourth title, La Salle coach Vic Stanley appeared a bit flabbergasted when absorbing what his team had just done.

“I don’t think anyone expects to win three championships in a row,” Stanley said. “I can’t say enough about how hard our kids have worked.”

John Knebels can be reached at