Latrobe well represented at NCAA wrestling championships
When the NCAA wrestling championships come to PPG Paints Arena beginning Thursday, Latrobe will be prominently represented.
Three former Wildcats stars will compete in the event. Each of them — Virginia Tech’s Zack Zavatsky and Luke Pletcher and Ethan Smith of Ohio State — has a chance to make the podium and become an All-American.
Latrobe isn’t the biggest wrestling powerhouse in the state or even in the WPIAL. But there aren’t too many high schools that can claim three possible All-Americans.
“I think everybody that’s been involved in the program really has had a passion for the sport,” former longtime Latrobe coach Marc Billet said. “And that being said, I think the hard work and efforts that each individual does outside of what they did at school is a tribute to them, too. These guys in particular have really, really worked hard. Over the years we’ve been fortunate enough as coaches to have individuals that that’s been their MO.”
Billet, who spent 40 years with Latrobe wrestling (21 as head coach) before retiring in 2012, recalled a sign that hangs in the program’s wrestling room.
It reads: “Make no mistake, this is a workplace.”
Beginning Thursday, the workplace for Zavatsky, Pletcher and Smith will be the floor at PPG Paints Arena. And while each will be wearing his college colors on his singlet, all will be supported by Latrobe.
“Absolutely, there’s a sense of pride in the whole community because they represent the school and the community and their families,” Billet said.
Pletcher won three PIAA titles while at Latrobe from 2012-16, and Zavatsky won his state title to cap off a 42-0 senior season for the Wildcats in 2014. Smith is a two-time state champion in Maryland, but he was part of the Wildcats program from middle school until the beginning of his junior year when a job transfer for his father uprooted the family to the Baltimore area.
The Smiths are back in Latrobe, though, so that’s what he considers his hometown.
“I would say the biggest thing I could point to (for Latrobe’s success) was probably the brotherhood sense and the atmosphere,” Smith said.
Just a freshman, Smith is ranked No. 13 in the country at 174 pounds by intermatwrestle.com. Pletcher, a junior, is No. 7 among 133-pounders and Zavatsky entered his final collegiate event as the ACC champion and ranked No. 3 nationally at 184 pounds.
Zavatsky is a three-time ACC champion and last season was an All-American. Pletcher also is a returning All-American.
The three of them remain in touch regularly (Pletcher helped recruit Smith to Ohio State), often meeting up over semester breaks to get some work in on an available mat in the area.
“I’m really close with Ethan and Luke,” Zavatsky said. “Ever since high school, we have had a really close bond together to try to push each other to see who can out-do each other. And I think we have all had this vision of competing at the highest level.
“We knew that where we grew up, in Southwestern PA, it is a great area for wrestling and we just tried to see how far we could go with it. It’s awesome how just seeing how well they are doing.”
Virginia Tech coach Tony Robie is a native of Erie who is no stranger to WPIAL wrestling, particularly when it comes to recruiting. Robie tried his best four years ago to get Pletcher to become a Hokie, too.
“Just like Zack, great kid,” Robie said. “I just think it might not be really specific to Latrobe but western Pennsylvania in general has really, obviously, great wrestling, especially in the WPIAL. There’s been a number of kids from Latrobe, Derry and other areas in Westmoreland County, and then Allegheny County, too, that you’ll see wrestling in NCAAs this year. With the meet in Pittsburgh, I think that’s a pretty cool deal.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .