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Jeannette wrestler is Athlete of the Week

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 9:04 p.m.

Connor VanDyke, a senior at Jeannette High School, has been wrestling for four years and is also a soccer player.

He is a first-time Student Athlete of the Week.

VanDyke began wrestling as a freshman at the urging of his godfather, John King, who taught Matt Lebe, who was the wrestling coact at that time. Lebe is now the district athletic director. VanDyke decided to give the sport a try and found himself progressing and picking up speed each year.

“This season, personally, has been good. There have been a lot of moments when things have been difficult,” said VanDyke. “I'm injured right now and working through it.”

He describes his team as a family and said the group works together.

“A lot of my friends wrestle,” he said. “Some of my best friends are real interested in MMA (mixed martial arts). (Wrestling) is a thing I can relate to a lot of people with.”

As a freshman, VanDyke said, he was very shy. As a member of the wrestling team that year, his confidence grew and by the time he was a sophomore the team had broken him out of his shell.

“As a sophomore, they all talked to me and made me feel welcome. It helped me become more outgoing. All types of people wrestle, it's a real tight knit group.”

This year's wrestling team is “really young. A lot of kids are wrestling for the first time. I feel they don't get the credit they deserve. They put their hearts into it and they get beat because of stupid stuff; they lose because they don't know everything yet.”

Anthony Ruane, a junior wrestler, is VanDyke's best friend and “the second-best wrestler on the team,” VanDyke said with a laugh. Brad Snyder, also a junior wrestler, Ruane and VanDyke are the oldest wrestlers on the team, the captains and they lead practices along with sophomore Malik Harper.

“We help a lot of the new guys. It's tough to come in at a high school level. Some kids have wrestled since they could walk. People think it's easy, but they don't know what we do.”

Coach Steve Dominick and assistant coach Donnie Ament are working hard to keep the program on a path of improvement, said VanDyke.

“He (Dominick) brings a little different aspect to it, practices are a little different (from Lebe's days as coach),” said VanDyke. He added that both Dominick and Ament are accomplished wrestlers in their own rights and it means a lot to the team to have good wrestlers teaching them the sport.

“(Dominick) keeps the environment friendly, but he wants to keep us tough. He's committed. He lives 30 minutes away, but he stays with us after school every day. I appreciate that.”

The team appreciates the fans who stick by them as they work out the kinks in a growing program.

“There are people out there who do honestly love the sport. We appreciate our fans and the support we get.”

VanDyke is joining the United States Navy after graduation. His official ship-out date is July 18.

“I didn't see myself as a college kid. If I'm left alone, I don't do well. But, with structure and pressure, I do very well with that. The military as a whole will be a good place for me.”

VanDyke believes his wrestling experience will help him in the Navy, not just from a physical fitness aspect, but also from the discipline involved in the sport. Two of the team's former wrestlers, Bobby Wolfe and Michael Glasgow, are in the military and recently came back to talk to the team.

“We look up to those guys,” said VanDyke, who added that one day he'd like to be involved in wrestling again, perhaps at a coaching level.

“I really enjoy the sport and want other people to enjoy it, too.”

VanDyke will initially ship-out to Chicago, where he will undergo basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

“I'm really excited to go, that's my future. I want to make a career out of it.”Initially, VanDyke will assist the chaplain and double as his bodyguard, as well. After basic training, he will continue his education in Marine Combat Training.

VanDyke would like to thank his mother, Susan McFarland, for supporting him in wrestling, “this new sport that neither of us knew anything about.”

He is thankful to Lebe for getting him involved and encouraging him to continue. He is thankful to Dominick and the current wrestlers for coming out and working to make each competition better. He also thanks his stepfather, Michael McFarland.

“I just want to go out this year and leave everything on the mat,” he said. “I want to go out and live my life like that —every minute counts.”

Kristie Linden is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at klinden@tribweb.com or 724-838-5154.

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