PAHS 2008-09 wrestling preview

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2008

There’s a change at the top of the Port Allegany wrestling program, with Sean Lathrop taking over for Aaron Rendos after the reigning Big 30 Coach of the Year decided not to return this season. But while Lathrop may be new to the head-coaching job, he’s certainly no stranger to Gator wrestling; the longtime assistant is now in his 23rd year with the team. It was that loyalty to the program – and to his wrestlers – which led him to accept the task of following in Rendos’ large footsteps.

“It’s the kids,” he said. “I’ve been involved with them for so long, since they were six, seven, eight years old. I’ve coached fathers and sons … and I’m not that old,” he added with a chuckle.

Lathrop inherits a team with a long history of accomplishment; the 2007-08 squad compiled a 17-4 record, winning its sixth straight Allegheny Mountain Wrestling League title and finishing second (team) and third (individual championships) in the District 9 tournaments.

The Gators will have to replace a key component of that success. After a glittering high school career that ended with a trophy case full of district and regional championships and state-tournament medals, four-time Big 30 All-Star Nick Nichols – whose 168-25 career mark obliterated the previous district record for wins – is wrestling for Seton Hill University this winter.

Nichols may have moved on, but Dylan Major (41-7 in 2007-08), the other District 9/Northwest Regional champion from last season, returns for his senior year. “I can’t say enough about him,” Lathrop said. “I’ve been around him since he was eight, watched him grow up. He’s just a great kid. Ask anything of him, he’ll give you 120 percent.

“But pretty much all the kids on the team are like that,” he emphasized. “Yeah, we’ve got some studs, but we are a team, and that’s what we’re focusing on – being a team.”

The six captains – “all leaders,” according to their coach – are Major and fellow seniors Damen Brodhun, Pat Lacher, Justin Lewis, and Zigmund Reichenbach, along with junior Adam Greenman.

While most area teams struggle to field a full roster, Port’s numbers are up again this year, with multiple wrestlers in several weight classes.

“I think with success, you’ll see kids follow,” said Lathrop, who also made a point of crediting the Junior Olympic team for its influence.

“The feeder program is very important to any successful program,” he said. “If you don’t have the people down below teaching them the basics, building a foundation, you can’t finish the house. Every house needs a good foundation. We’ve been fortunate to have that. There are so many guys who help out down below – I don’t want to name everyone because I know I’ll forget somebody – but with all the coaching they’ve got down there, it’s great.”

So far, Lathrop and assistant coaches Alan Lovell and Brian Neal like what they see from their squad.

“From where we started out at the beginning of the year, as young as we were, to where we’re at now, I’m really happy with where we’re at,” Lathrop said. “Our record is 4-3, but you have to look at who we’ve wrestled. It’s not like we’ve wrestled nobodies. That’s something Doug (Triplett) started doing and Aaron continued – we keep increasing our schedule.”

That slate once again includes road trips to several high-profile tournaments in addiction to the AMWL, where they currently own a 47-match winning streak. Two weekends ago, the team earned a 3-2 record in the prestigious Commodore Perry Duals, with their only losses against nationally-ranked Reynolds and Butler, a Class AAA team.

“The kids battled. They didn’t give up,” Lathrop said. “We weren’t intimidated, that’s what I like. We mixed it up.”

Returning to the topic of the Gators’ tough schedule, he continued, “I can’t mention how much it helps. When you’ve got a tight league match, you know the kids have been in those situations before, faced that pressure … We’ve had kids who went into districts with a 21-21 mark and ended up getting a third seed, just because of the competition we’ve wrestled. To make yourself better, it’s always been the philosophy of this coaching regime for the last seven years, to compete with the best, you have to wrestle the best. We go wherever we can to get competition.”

Some of the faces may have changed this year, but the program’s goals remain the same: “Win the AMWL, go undefeated again, keep the streak alive, possibly look for a district title. That’s everybody’s goal when you start the year,” Lathrop said. “If you want a goal, you have to set it high. If we set our goals low, the kids will feel, ‘Hey, we’ve achieved it,’ and I don’t want a letdown. Everything is set high. I’ve learned that from both Doug and Aaron – set higher expectations and make the kids focus on that.”

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