The Pleasant Valley and Northern Lehigh School Districts didn't have to look far for new wrestling coaches.
Following the resignation of Mark Getz, the Bears turned to junior high coach Justin Micklos to fill the void as head varsity coach while the Bulldogs replaced longtime mentor Todd Herzog with alum Steve Hluschak.
The familiarity with their respective programs has helped both first-year coaches in their new roles, positions that come with high expectations at schools that are accustomed to achieving success on a regular basis.
"The transition has been very smooth for me," said Micklos, who also wrestled at Pleasant Valley. "We've started the year strong in several tournaments and it's really been everything I've expected it to be."
Hluschak returns to his alma mater, where his 147 career wins once were the school record. Most recently he was an assistant at Lehighton and Stroudsburg, and previously Bangor.
That success, coupled with his recent experience coaching at the varsity level, has Hluschak hoping to give Northern Lehigh its old mat presence back.
"Everything has been good thus far," the coach said. "I feel like my time at each stop along the way has prepared me for this."
Both squads will be working with young, but talented rosters.
The Bears will rely on several underclassmen throughout the lineup, but will feature one of the most gifted seniors in the area in Kenny Yanovich, a returning state qualifier who went 35-6 last season and could set the school record for wins this year.
"Kenny has been a great leader, both on and off the mat," Micklos noted. "He has gone above-and-beyond what I could have expected with the time he has put in working with some of the younger guys and helping them however he can. His work ethic and drive to succeed are second to none."
Hluschak will be tasked with replacing Ty Herzog, a state medalist a year ago and a member of Northern Lehigh's 100-win club.
Sophomore Matt Schmall is the top returner with 19 wins a year ago, though Hluschak said records don't truly indicate the team's dedication.
"The guys have worked really hard and are really pushing each other in the (wrestling) room," he said. "I just want the guys to get better as the season goes on.
"We have a lot of work to do with only one senior. But overall, I think we have a solid lineup with a good wrestler or athlete at every weight class. I expect us to compete with most of the teams in the league."
Micklos is also expecting the Bears to maintain their status as contenders in a tough Mountain Valley Conference.
"I expect us to place high in the MVC," the coach said. "I think we have a very good chance to do that. The kids have worked really hard and hopefully it pays off at the end of the year."
While Micklos and Hluschak have liked what they have seen on the mat so far this season, both have been just as impressed by the support they have received from the community.
"The encouragement from the parents has been great," Micklos said. "They have helped tremendously in a variety of ways and I feel very privileged to work here. It's a great environment for myself and for the kids."
For Hluschak, the assistance has come in a variety of ways.
"The support has been amazing," he said. "We started fundraising pretty much right away, and that helps to take the kids to various tournaments throughout the season.
"But I've also had a lot of help from my assistant wrestling coaches Andrew Arnold, Brett Martinez, Scott Snyder those guys have all worked with the kids in the (wrestling) room and done as much as they can to help them get better. I couldn't ask for much more."
What Hluschak and Micklos lack in experience they certainly make up for in enthusiasm and passion, which should ensure continued success for Northern Lehigh and Pleasant Valley for years to come.
THREE-PEAT … This past weekend saw three area wrestlers earn their 100th win, with two coming at the same tournament. Panther Valley's Lenny Ogozalek and Palmerton's Josh Evans reached the milestone at Saturday's Anthracite Duals, while Tamaqua's Colin Mashack reached the landmark on the same day at the Hamburg Hawk Mountain Duals. Maschak and Ogozalek now have 101 career wins, while Evans sits at 104.
SOPHOMORE SLUMP? ... Jim Thorpe's Kevan Gentile is the lone unbeaten at this point out of all the TIMES NEWS area wrestlers with at least five matches. Gentile was 21-14 last year as a freshman and has made great strides at 106 pounds this season. The Olympians feature a young lineup and will no doubt lean on underclassmen such as Gentile to achieve success as a team this season.
FAST START ... The nine returning area wrestlers that qualified for regionals last year are off to a quick start this season, compiling a 104-33 record. Only one, Pleasant Valley's Kenny Yanovich, made the trip to Hershey a year ago. But experience in big tournaments is key, and several of last season's qualifiers were underclassmen. Being tested a year ago should bode well for those hoping to take the next step to the PIAA Championships this season.