Latrobe wrestling team sets lofty goals

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Latrobe wrestling team doesn't need to look far to remind itself of its goals for the 2013-14 season.

That's because the Wildcats outlined their goals on a chalkboard that sits in the locker room, a list that includes a WPIAL Section 1-AAA title, a WPIAL championship, a return trip to the PIAA team tournament, strong tournament performances and academic achievement.

“That's something that the kids put together every season,” Latrobe coach Tad Harbert said. “The coaching staff, we stay out of that. It's kind of like a private team meeting. We duck out of the team room, then we come back in. We do tell the kids to make goals they can attain. We like what we see.”

“The first week of practice we just sat down and wrote up all the goals,” senior Virginia Tech commit Zack Zavatsky said. “Whether academically or just being a team and sticking together and some individual stuff, too.”

The Wildcats enter the season with a loaded roster, one that consists of 13 returning starters and impact transfers and is chock full of Division I prospects.

Zavatsky returns after posting a 42-2 record on his way to a bronze medal in the PIAA championships at 160 pounds last season but will wrestle at 182 pounds this season. He is joined by a pair of sophomores in state qualifier Jake Shaffer and reigning PIAA 106-pound champion Luke Pletcher.

Alongside its strong core of returners, Latrobe also welcomes two transfers from the Kiski School who will make the Wildcats an even more formidable opponent.

Senior Dom Scalise joins the team after finishing third in the nation last season at 160 pounds. Sophomore Ethan McCoy finished as the national runner-up at 106 pounds last year.

“Having two extra studs, it makes our team get extra bonus points pretty much on every team,” Zavatsky said. “It just makes our team better well-rounded.”

“It's super rare to get so much Division I talent in one room, and it's quite amazing when I look at some of the guys we actually have on the roster,” Harbert said.

Pletcher (third), Zavatsky (eighth) and Scalise (12th) all rank among the top 12 in the nation in their respective weight classes (according to InterMat Wrestling), but Harbert and the Wildcats aren't getting caught up in their accolades.

“The rankings are really nice for the guys, but it's just one person's belief or faith in us,” he said.

After finishing 5-2 last season and losing to Belle Vernon in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, the Wildcats are motivated entering this season.

They started the campaign on a positive note Friday, avenging a loss to Connellsville last season by defeating the Falcons 49-15 in their opener.

With so much talent on one roster, practices have been highly competitive early in the season, and Zavatsky has helped lead that effort, which was evident in the Connellsville match.

“It's a group effort, but most definitely Zack is our team leader,” Harbert said. “He might not be the most vocal person in the room, but as far as leading by example, what he does drilling-wise and the example he sets for the younger kids, it's incredible.”

While expectations are desevedly high for this year's squad, Latrobe knows it will have its work cut out for it in a tough WPIAL Class AAA conference that features North Allegheny, Canon-McMillan and section foe Franklin Regional.

“We're extremely optimistic, but I think all the kids on the team understand that we have not achieved one thing and (Friday) we performed really well,” Harbert said.

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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