With program showing signs of progress, Highlands wrestling ready to compete

Tuesday, December 10, 2019 | 5:03 PM

Since Highlands wrestling coach Grant Walters took over the program in 2011-12, it’s been a process to build it from the ground up.

As the Golden Rams head into the 2019-20 season, the program is at a point where it can build for the future while competing in the present.

“If you would’ve looked on paper and see the progression from where we were to where we are now, it’s pretty dramatic,” Walters said. “Two years ago, we didn’t have one dual match win and last year we made the team playoffs.”

After going 3-11 in 2017-18, the Golden Rams finished 8-8 last season and were one win away from making an appearance in the WPIAL Class AA team tournament for the first time since 2010-11.

With a young core returning, a few seniors at the top and a junior high program that is just starting to get its feet off the ground, the Highlands wrestling program looks to be on the rise.

“We might have not have wrestled the way we wanted to against Southmoreland (last season), but that’s the reason why we coach,” Walters said. “We are here to fall on our face then pick ourselves back up. Not just the kids, but the coaches as well. So we have a great support system here, and I don’t see us taking any steps backwards in the near future.”

Blake Clark, Chase D’Angelo and Nate Riddell are the three seniors for the Golden Rams this season.

Clark is looking to build off a junior season where he went 22-15, took third in the section tournament and placed fifth at the WPIAL tournament at 138 pounds. He lost to Hopewell’s Jacob Ealy, who was the eventual WPIAL and PIAA champion, and Freedom’s Kenny Dushek, who finished third at WPIALs.

D’Angelo, who went 13-15 last season before suffering a knee injury, is back and is hoping to stay healthy and do something he has yet to accomplish in his high school career.

“I want to make it past sections and regionals and maybe make it to states,” D’Angelo said. “I’ve always suffered setbacks, so this year, I’m hoping there’s no setbacks.”

While the older wrestlers are looking to perform in their final season, some of the younger wrestlers like sophomore Jrake Burford and junior Jeremiah Nelson are looking to build off solid seasons from a year ago.

Nelson went 15-11 as a sophomore and placed fourth in the section tournament.

“I felt like last year I did pretty good as a sophomore,” Nelson said. “I feel like I just need to take more shots this year. Last year, I felt like I was just trying to toss people. So I feel like I need to move around a little more and just do me.”

For his first taste of the varsity level, Burford turned in a quality season. He produced an overall record of 25-11, took third in the section tournament and showed signs of strength in the postseason. He said this past weekend was a good way to start off his sophomore season.

“It was pretty good, but I felt like I could’ve done better, to be honest,” Burford said. “I wrestled really good the first day, and I didn’t do as good as I expected the second day. But now I have something to improve on as the season goes on.”

While the Golden Rams are looking to improve individually, they can feel the changing of the tides within the program. It’s moving from a program that once struggled with numbers to one that has aspirations to make a postseason run.

“We want to respect the challenge and live in the moment,” Walters said. “We are going to continue to live in the moment right now, get after stuff and focus on our stuff, not what everyone else is doing. We are going to put together the best possible run we can this year.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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