Garth Lakitsky promises he will be bigger, stronger and better when he takes to the wrestling mat next season.

That's bad news for 215-pound wrestlers throughout the state.

As an 189-pounder this season, the Tamaqua Area High School junior demolished just about everyone in his path, racking up a record of 38-5 and disposing of 27 of his opponents by fall.

Lakitsky captured his second straight Schuylkill League title and won tournaments at Bloomsburg and Mount Carmel. He was hardly challenged until the postseason, losing two close bouts to Saucon Valley's Ian Gimbar in the District 11 and Southeast Class AA Regional finals to place second at each.

He qualified for the PIAA State Championships for the second year in a row, advancing to the semifinals before taking home a fourth place medal.

Lakitsky's outstanding season has earned him TIMES NEWS Wrestler of the Year honors.

After a campaign where he just missed tying Andy Breiner's school record of 39 wins and became the fourth Raider grappler to reach the State semis (joining his father, Garth, Sr., who did it in 1988; Breiner, who made it in 1999; and Matt Benza, who was a 2001 semifinalist), Lakitsky feels he can build on that as a senior.

"I feel good about what happened this season, but I still think I could have done a little better," said Lakitsky, who also stars on the gridiron as a fullback and linebacker. "When I went to states, I wanted to place top eight. When I got to the semifinals, I realized I could beat just about any of those kids out there."

At States, he rolled to a 9-1 major decision over R.J. Malson of Greenville and edged Regional rival Nate Ronan of Octorara 6-5 in an overtime tiebreaker, then dropped a 7-2 decision to Towanda's Travis Chesla in the semifinals before settling for fourth.

His success this season continued the upward progression for Lakitsky, who now has a career record of 87-27, a winning percentage of .763.

Lakitsky wrestled at 171 as a freshman but often faced bigger opponents and ended at 13-16, although he did place fifth at Districts. He showed immense improvement as a sophomore at 189 pounds. He registered a 36-6 record, placing second at Districts and earning his first trip to States.

Once at Hershey, however, Lakitsky dropped both his bouts. The experience taught him how to handle the glare of the State spotlight the second time around.

"Last year I was intimidated being out there, with all the fans in the stands," admitted Lakitsky. "It was a new thing. This year I went out there and didn't think about anything else but wrestling."

"As a freshman, Garth was undersized and was under .500 heading into Districts, but something clicked and he made it to the semis," said Tamaqua coach Jim McCabe. "He had the opportunity to prove something and he did it.

"He improved 100 percent between his freshman and sophomore years, and this year he wrestled with so much confidence that he felt no one could beat him."

Lakitsky said he can fare even better at 215 next year.

"I'm at 207 pounds right now, and I want to play football at 220," related Lakitsky. "My plan is to cut five pounds and be a little cut up at 215. I wrestled a lot of matches at 215 this year and I feel most of the kids at 215 weren't as good as the 189 pounders."

"I think he's going to be a solid 215 pounder," said McCabe. "This year he came in light for 215, so he decided to wrestle at 189 so he could compete at the full weight."

Besides bulking up, Lakitsky plans to sharpen his technique by working at Blue Mountain's Attack Mat Club, as well as entering offseason competitions.

"I feel pretty good, but I have to work on my shot," he mentioned. "I need to work a little more on top, too, working on throwing legs in and stuff like that."

"Garth realizes he can still do some things to improve, mostly on his feet," explained McCabe. "He's very good defensively. We want him to pick up offensively and rely on his shot to get points. He's definitely strong enough, but whether he's at 189 or 215, he has to be able to win a one-point match in the semifinals at States."

Garth's career resembles that of his father, who was a PIAA bronze and fourth place medalist. The younger Lakitsky wants to take it up a notch.

"I want to be a State champion," he remarked.

"He's very close to being at the top of the heap," stated McCabe.