Panther Valley’s Bachert sees early setbacks as opportunities
Panther Valley’s Eric Moyer (top), shown during a match in the Anthracite Duals over the weekend, has gotten off to a strong start this season. Moyer is a junior who didn’t wrestle his freshman and sophomore years. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
The way Zane Bachert sees it, he’s just getting started.
Bachert knows the results might not always show it this season. But the first-year Panther Valley head coach is certain the program is headed in the right direction.
“It’s been great, it’s been a big transition for sure,” said Bachert. “Coaching three years as a junior high coach, coming up to varsity and being a varsity head coach, it’s been a big step for me. It’s been fun, though. With a small team, we’re trying to build both the varsity and junior high programs together, so I help both teams when I can.
“We try to build it as a whole program; trying to rebuild from the ground up, really. We lost nine seniors from last year.”
Three of those departed wrestlers – Hunter Kennedy, Tanner Kennedy and Derrick Beckham – advanced to states, and played a large role in helping the Panthers reach district duals.
Those losses, coupled with the broken hand suffered by heavyweight Aaron Eidem (24-10 last season) just before the team’s first match, could have set an ominous tone for Bachert’s first campaign at the helm.
But where some might see setbacks, Bachert finds opportunities.
“We have potential, and like I’ve said to my kids, we could lose every dual meet, but it’s about individual wrestling this year, and building ourselves up,” said Bachert. “Our 160-pounder (Eric Moyer) took two years off, and now he’s back, and he’s coming back strong. He was a junior high place winner.
“We have kids that just need to take the next step. Our heavyweight (Eidem) is hurt, but our backup heavyweight (Sincere Flamer) is 8-2 right now as a freshman.”
A junior high coach at Lehighton the past three years, Bachert has roamed the halls at Panther Valley High School, where he is a social studies teacher, working to add depth and generate interest in the program.
“It’s been huge this year,” Bachert said of working at the school. “We definitely pulled a lot of new kids out, and returners back out for the team. I have mostly juniors and seniors in my classes, and Eric (Moyer) is a junior, and Bryan Krapf, he’s a junior. Bryan was thinking about not wrestling this year, and every day in class, I said, ‘Hey, you’re wrestling.’ So we pulled a couple kids out. I see them in class daily, so even if they’re not sure, I’m there telling them they’re gonna do it.
“In a small school like this, they can’t get very far. I see most of them daily, whether it’s in the hallway, in class or whatever it is. It’s definitely been a blessing. That’s where a lot of the numbers in the preseason came from. And I think a lot of those kids, we’ll see them next year.
“I told the kids that our ultimate goal is to where we have two at every weight class, junior high and varsity. The kids know that in order to compete, we need people to wrestle with. And you can definitely feel it at practice sometimes where, I have to pause and look around and say, ‘What can I do next to try to get you where you need to be?’”
The numbers were anything but low prior to the start of the season. They just didn’t carry over.
“In the preseason, we had probably 20 to 30 kids in the room, and a lot of them never showed up,” he said. “So we’re fielding six kids on the junior high team, and six to seven varsity, too. We’re fielding about a third of the team; half the team, which is not bad. I know the junior high team was low the last couple years, and the varsity team, the majority of them graduated, so we’re doing well, I think.
“We’re looking forward to next year already. We’re not skipping this year, but we’re looking to build on this year. We have a couple kids that are injured this year. We have a couple of good eighth graders that are looking to come up next year as freshmen. I hope we’ll have a strong, full lineup next year, so I’m excited. As soon as the season’s over, we’re looking to build strong for next year. I would love to have a full junior high and varsity lineup next year.”
A 2007 Tamaqua graduate, Bachert knows the area – and how much wrestling means.
“I know it’s exciting to see a program that has such high caliber, and such high strengths, fall down and hopefully within one year, I think we’re going to take a huge step forward and bounce back to where we were, and maybe beyond that,” he said. “We have low numbers, but we have kids in the school that are showing interest in coming back to wrestle, some that did when they were in knee-hi and stopped, some kids that are from out of the area that moved in, and things like that. We have interest in the team even though we are struggling.”
Despite an 0-7 start, Bachert has been able to point to several positives with the team’s performance.
“After matches, I take away the forfeits and look at the score,” Bachert noted. “Against Halifax we lost 66-18, without forfeits we won 18-6. We gave them 60 points. Teams know that our kids are coming out tough. That’s what I aim for, having our kids step out on the mat with a pretty tough attitude.”
That mentality is one that stems from Bachert’s own career wrestling at Messiah College.
“A lot of my philosophy in coaching comes from my college coach, Bryan Brunk, the aggressive style of wrestling,” said Bachert. “I was a heavyweight, and he pushed me, he pushed the whole team to have an aggressive style of wrestling. I know Panther Valley had that with Coach (Tim) Robb, and I definitely want to retain that.”
With traces of a storied past blended with promising talent, Bachert’s vision for the future at Panther Valley looks bright.
WHAT’S ON TAP ... Lehighton will host its annual Indian Duals Tournament this Saturday. The eight-team event will be comprised of eight teams, including Jim Thorpe and Panther Valley. There will be two four-team pools - Jim Thorpe, Panther Valley, Scranton and Allen will be in Pool A; Lehighton, East Stroudsburg North, Whitehall and Central Bucks South will comprise Pool B. Each team will wrestle each other once through the first four rounds. Rounds five-through-eight will be determined by pool records for each team. Action is set to begin at 8 a.m. The seventh and final round is scheduled to run from 3:30 p.m.-4:45 p.m. Pleasant Valley is also set to compete at the Iron Hammer Tournament on Saturday. The Bears will travel to Whitehall tonight.
WHAT A WEEK ... Liberty started 2019 with two huge wins - edging Northampton 32-28 last Wednesday before unseating Bethlehem Catholic 32-30 in a thriller on Friday night. The Hurricanes are currently 9-0 and atop the District 11 Class 3A power ratings. The Golden Hawks are second, followed by the Konkrete Kids. The victories moved Liberty from 11th to No. 1 in PA Power Wrestling’s State Dual Team Rankings. Northampton was ranked fifth, and Becahi first. The Hurricanes also have nine wrestlers ranked in the top-25 in the state.
RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER ... The annual Schuylkill League Tournament is set for Jan. 18-19. Lehighton’s Chris Whiteman (145) and Tamaqua’s Bronson Strouse (220) are the two returning champions from the area.