First-year coach Kolb leads Pine-Richland wrestling team

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Friday, December 14, 2018 | 8:03 PM


While the Pine-Richland wrestling team may lack the numbers to fill each weight class, the group makes up for it with scrappy, dedicated grapplers. And first-year coach Caleb Kolb is just fine with that.

Kolb, a Grove City High School graduate and former collegiate wrestler at Nebraska, has a big-picture plan to grow the program the previous coach, Ben Rings, helped lay the foundation for by focusing on the development of the district’s youth wrestling programs.

But in the short term, the rookie varsity coach is inheriting a team that has just one senior on its roster. Regardless, he says he’s thrilled with the level of commitment the boys that are on the team bring to the table.

“The young guys are scrappy. They like to battle, so it’s fun,” Kolb said.

“With just one senior, it’s going to get better and better for us moving forward. Our biggest thing right now is that we’re small. We only have 14 guys, so we’re growing the program but the guys that we have are totally committed. They show up to all the optional conditionings that we have. They stay after practice to lift together. It’s a great group to walk into.”

The Rams have a few headliners returning to wrestle this season, starting with Cole Spencer, who took second place in the WPIAL Class AAA championships at 152 pounds last season and placed eighth at the state finals. The sophomore figures to move up a weight class or two depending on how this season progresses.

Junior Nate Lukez finished second in Section 3-AAA last season and is picking up from where he left off while wrestling in the 120-pound division this season. He had a third-place finish at 138 pounds Dec. 7 at the Chartiers-Houston Invitational.

“Nate wrestles a lot like I did. He’s got heavy hands, he wears people down and he gets a lot of points in the third period,” Kolb said.

“He wants to stay late after practice every day. I love it. He’s something special. I don’t know if I’ve coached any kids that are quite like him. He’s the total package — a great student, wants to go to one of the military academies. He works out before and after school. He’s a good kid for the young guys to watch and learn from.”

Experienced grapplers Zach Esswein and Robbie Palmieri also will be fixtures in the Rams lineup this season. Palmieri wrestled at 106 pounds last season while Esswein filled the 113-pound class. Both will move up a class or two, according to their coach.

Of the newcomers to the team, Kellan Laffey stands out as a possible impact freshman. He introduced himself to WPIAL competition at the Chartiers-Houston Invitational, where he placed second at 120 pounds.

“He wasn’t seeded at the Chartiers-Houston tournament, so I think he really surprised some people,” Kolb said. “Right now he’s at 120, but everybody is wrestling up. He showed a lot because he was down pretty bad in one of his matches at the tourney, but he came back in the third period and scored a ton of points to win it.”

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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