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Highlands' Wise thrives with wrestling team he helped salvage

| Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, 1:16 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Highlands' Nolan Wise takes down head coach Grant Walters during wrestling practice at Highlands' Community Center in Harrison on Monday, December 30, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Highlands' Tommy Grates (center) grabs hold of Zach Mazur during wrestling practice at Highlands' Community Center in Harrison on Monday, December 30, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Disp
Highlands' head coach Grant Walters works with Nolan Wise (right) in the background while Tommy Grates (front) and Zach Mazur grapple at wrestling practice at Highlands' Community Center in Harrison on Monday, December 30, 2013.

As he attended monthly Highlands school board meetings during most of 2013, Nolan Wise questioned the impact of his efforts to save the Golden Rams wrestling team.

Until he motivated more than 30 boys to show up for a meeting and pushed the board to hire a coach in early October, Wise wondered if there would be a team for the 2013-14 season.

Halfway through his senior year, Wise now understands how significant of a role he played in saving the program, which suffered from a shortage of participants. But program savior is not the legacy Wise wants.

He wants to go down in Highlands history as one of its standouts on the mat.

The next several months will determine Wise's place in the Golden Rams' record books. The 152-pounder welcomes the opportunity to finish his time as a Highlands wrestler with more teammates — 20, with possibly more to come — than he has had at any point in his varsity career.

“When there was such a small team, I felt like there was a lot of pressure on me, individually,” said Wise, one of Highlands' six wrestlers last season. “It felt like the coaches had a lot more riding on me solely. So this has kind of taken the pressure off.

“Also, bus rides are a little more fun now. We actually take a full bus — I haven't taken a full bus to a wrestling tournament in so long. I've been taking vans to wrestling tournaments the past couple years.”

As a sophomore at Shady Side Academy, Wise belonged to a team with six other members. He returned to Highlands last season and went 18-11 as a 138-pounder who reached the PIAA Class AA Southwest Regional tournament.

With considerable scheduling efforts made by first-year coach Grant Walters, Wise has more chances to test his abilities this season — Highlands, which only wrestled in individual tournaments a season ago, has competed in dual matches on an almost weekly basis. Wise improved to 9-2 on the season last weekend, as he took fourth place in the Steve DeAugustino Holiday Classic at West Mifflin High School.

Walters, a 2006 Burrell graduate, believes Wise is a prime example for Highlands' newer wrestlers to emulate.

“The intensity level between him and the new guys is completely different,” said Walters, who was hired in October. “I do give credit to his past coaches that brought him up this way. Coming from Burrell, that's the way we always practiced, so I understand the way he practices. The new guys, they don't understand it. They think he's going way too hard, but that's just the way he goes.”

Wise and fellow seniors Zach Mazur (5-4 at 170 pounds), Derrick Mazur (3-0 at 182), Kendric Moore (6-3 at 126), Tommy Grates (4-4 at 160) and Mike Brell (2-5 at 285) make up the core of Highlands, which was 4-2 in dual matches through December.

Highlands' future hopes rest with junior Cameron Johns (7-4 at 106), who placed sixth in the DeAugustino Holiday Classic, as well as freshmen Richard Fox (4-4 at 138), Cameron Clark (3-5 at 132) and Nathan Hoover (3-5 at 113).

“These younger guys, they're moving faster than they normally would, which is good for me and good for them as well,” Walters said. “Hopefully in the future here we'll have some good go-arounds with these other schools.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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