When Danny Williams took over the wrestling helm at Lehighton this season, the transition was a smooth one.
A 2001 Lehighton graduate who teaches biology in the school district, Williams has been part of the Indians' program as a wrestler and a coach, assisting Floyd Brown with the varsity squad for three years. He also served as a head coach for the middle school team for two seasons.
Thus, the grapplers that had been in the program under Brown were already familiar with Williams.
"It feels really good," said Williams of taking over as head coach at his alma mater. "When I got into education, coaching is something I really wanted to do. I was fortunate to have Floyd give me a position to start my career, and he left me with a good team. I have a good program and a good group of kids to work with."
Williams is working to continue Lehighton's tradition of competitive, hard-nosed wrestling teams and build on it.
So far the Indians have an 11-7 mark, with the highlight a 5-0 showing at the Mustang Duals at Midd-West High School back in December. The Tribe also placed fourth at the season-opening Brandywine Heights Tournament and participated in the rugged Bethlehem Holiday Tournament at Liberty High School, as well as at the Anthracite Duals at Panther Valley. Lehighton also hosted its annual Indian Duals over the weekend.
In Mountain Valley Conference competition, the Indians are 1-2 so far, heading into Wednesday's meet at East Stroudsburg South. As always, the Tribe has the challenge of competing as a Class AA program in what is a Class AAA conference.
Lehighton has done all of this with a roster of mostly underclassmen, which means it could be a year away from reaching its full potential.
"We're a relatively young team," noted Williams. "We only have two seniors (Jeremy Gornick at 130 and Brandon Kuklentz at 171-189). We have a large group of juniors, and they are continuing to work hard in the practice room, and they really take the sport seriously."
Leading the way for the Indians has been junior 140 pounder Anthony Farole, who has a 23-2 record. Farole just missed a spot in the PIAA State Tournament a year ago after finishing sixth at the Southeast Class AA Regional. He already has a title at the Brandywine Heights tournament and a runner-up finish at Bethlehem under his belt for this season.
"That (the silver at Liberty) was huge for me, and I hope it will carry me all the way through to States this year," said Farole, whop feels he has improved on his feet this season. "I have learned a lot more variations from neutral to work with, and I am using a bigger variety of moves that I am working to perfect."
Farole is not one to put his own success ahead of that of the team.
"No one's part is bigger than anyone else's," said Farole. "We all take a different lead, and someone has to take that role sometimes. I like to think that I do what is right, and that is good for the team."
"That's just an example of how humble he is, but bar none, Anthony is our leader, and he's a true leader in every sense of the word," stressed Williams. "I'm really excited to have a wrestler like him on the team. It makes my job easier.
"At the level he is wrestling at, he probably didn't even know he could wrestle like this, and as a junior, he will get better and better. He's never satisfied with where he is at, and he sets the example for others to follow."
A number of Indians are enjoying solid seasons. With the seniors, Gornick is 14-10 and Kuklentz 7-12, although he has had to wrestle up in class due to some holes in the upper weights.
In addition to Farole, juniors with winning records include Jacon Hoats (19-5 at 103), Mitch Moyer (18-7 from 145-152), Zach Coleman (16-10 at 145-160) and Mike Balliet (19-6 at 171-189). Jason McEvoy is 10-13 at 125.
Sophomore Kurtis Brownmiller is 12-10 at 119 and freshman Nick Schaeffer is 9-9 at 112.
Other regulars have been sophomore Dylan Flexer at 135 and junior Colton Davidson at heavyweight. Sophomore Jacen Nalesnik saw action at 215 during the Indian Duals.
"This group will do whatever they can to get the team to win," praised WIlliams. "They are not opposed to sacrificing for the team. I have a young team, but it is a mature team. They know that as they get better, the team will take care of itself."
Williams feels his squad has had a good mix of competition, which will prepare it for what it will face once the District 11 tournaments begin. The Indians are hoping to make the District Duals at the beginning of next month, then get ready for the individual District tournament at the end of February.
"There are really two seasons, the team season and then for the individuals," stated Williams. "Everybody knows that at Districts, whether it's AA or AAA, the wrestling in District 11 is some of the best you are going to find."
INDIAN DUALS RESULTS - Lehighton posted a 2-3 record at the Indian Duals, defeating Pius X 36-21 and William Tennent 40-29. The Indians sustained close losses to Dieruff (39-34) and Pennridge (37-33) and also fell to Scranton (39-24).
Pennridge ended as the Indian Duals team champion with a 5-0 record after knocking off second place Scranton, 38-24.
OFF THE MAT RANKINGS - Mark Dugan has released his Off The Mat State Rankings for Class AA for this week,
There are nine TIMES NEWS area wrestlers in the AA rankings, including three at 140 pounds.
103 - Nick O'Donnell, Panther Valley (8th)
119 - Lucas Dise, Northern Lehigh (16th)
125 - Zane Heller, Northern Lehigh (6th)
140 - Kolby Mashack, Tamaqua (8th), Nikko Stevens, Northern Lehigh (11th), Anthony Farole, Lehighton (15th)
145 - Ty Herzog, Northern Lehigh (13th)
171 - Colin Hedash, Northern Lehigh (2nd)
215 - Garth Lakitsky, Tamaqua (5th).
WEEKEND TOURNAMENTS - Two TN area teams are scheduled to participate in tournaments this weekend.
Jim Thorpe is slated to be part of a tournament at North Schuylkill on Saturday, while Pleasant Valley will travel to the Clearfield Bison Duals.
According to an online listing, teams in the Clearfield tournament include Curwensville, General McClane, Greenville, Montoursville, Plum, Port Allegheny, Reading and Valley, in addition to the Bears and host Bison.