North Hills wrestling embraces turnover

Friday, December 8, 2017 | 11:00 PM

North Hills will have a handful of seniors to replace on its wrestling team this season. That is the bad news.

“We lost a lot of seniors last year,” Indians coach Jose Martinez said. “We lost a lot of big hitters. We are going to have to make up a lot of that. That is wrestling. You just have to deal with what you have and move on. There is no excuses.”

Martinez — in his 16th season as head coach — has endured having to replace seniors many times in his career and has done so with success.

The Indians are coming off a 14-6 season and trip to the WPIAL playoffs before losing to Canon-McMillan in the first round. It was North Hills' 10th straight playoff appearance.

“Our goals are always to shoot high,” Martinez said. “If you don't do that, you won't achieve them. We want to win the section and make the playoffs. We want to win the WPIAL and PIAA title. The main goal is to make the playoffs, and we should be able to do that.”

The main cog in the success this season will be sophomore Sam Hilligas. As a freshman, Hilligas won a state title at 113 pounds. He was the first state champion Martinez has coached in his tenure at North Hills.

“It was fantastic,” Martinez said. “He worked hard. He did all the work. I just went on the roller coaster ride with him.”

Hilligas will bump up to 120 pounds this season in preparation for the next level.

Other key members in the Indians rotation will be Nathan Mankey and Damon Thompson. Both qualified for the WPIAL championship last year.

Along with Martinez, assistant coach Vertus Jones has helped develop North Hills into a prominent program physically and mentally. Jones is a graduate of Greensburg Salem and wrestled at West Virginia.

“One of our philosophies is that wrestling is not about making weight, it is about wrestling,” Martinez said. “You lose a lot of positive attitudes when you worry about just cutting weight. It is best to stay where you are and have a good time wrestling.”

North Hills' main competitor for the Class AAA Section 3-B is defending champion North Allegheny.

The Indians will begin their season Friday at the Chartiers-Houston Tournament. It is their fifth year in the tournament, and they enter as the defending champions of the 36-team field.

“It is a great tune-up tournament,” Martinez said. “Individually, you get a sense of where your wrestlers are at. We always place in the top. It is a good tournament for us. Everyone won at least a match in last year's tournament.”

Drew Karpen is a freelance writer.


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