New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
In resurrecting the Ellwood City Lincoln High wrestling program, Craig Alberts was there all the way.
After Ellwood City disbanded the sport in 2001, former Wolverines coach John Barnes organized a youth program for the sport in 2005. He asked Alberts to help get the program off the ground.
A swell of popularity provoked the Ellwood City school board to give junior varsity wrestling a shot on a trial basis four years ago. Alberts was there to lend a hand.
When the junior varsity program took off, Barnes was named head coach to the newly reformed varsity team in 2011. His assistant coach? Alberts.
As Barnes resigned because of personal reasons in August, it was obvious who his successor would be.
“I was the next guy in line,” Alberts said. “I saw they started a youth program years ago and I immediately got right back into it. John, Matt Walley and myself were integral parts of that. We kind of molded these kids from there and tried to work our way to build up the system.”
The first-year coach brings with him a long history in high school wrestling. A 1998 graduate of Ambridge, Alberts wrestled for the school for four years in nearly every weight class.
“I started at 119 pounds and went to 185 pounds by the end of my career. Looking back, it was something I thought would be a competitive sport,” he said. “It’s unique in that in one way you are on your own, but then there’s this team aspect behind you as well. It was very intriguing to me.”
Last year’s reborn Wolverines squad ended their first campaign as part of sub-section B of Section 1-AA with a 2-6 overall record and high hopes for the future. Alberts, 43, knows his two seniors, Josh Higby and Trent Viccari, will provide veteran leadership vital to their success. According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association website, Higby was 13-10 in the 182-pound weight class in 2011-12 and will make the jump to 195 this season. Viccari, 160 pounds, competed in 22 matches in the 170-pound class as a junior.
“They are hard working and hard-nosed kids,” Alberts said. “They haven’t wrestled a whole lot of years. Hopefully they will be met with some success this year.”
For the second time in as many years, a foreign exchange student will be part of the Wolverines squad. Last season, German native Felix Weigel played on Ellwood’s soccer, football and wrestling teams. This season, Bosnian Dysan Smajic tried his shot at placekicker for the Wolverines football team and will strap on the pads and hit the mat this winter.
“Obviously he’s new to wrestling, but he seems to be enjoying it,” Alberts said.
A large junior class, led by Brad Grinnen, is hoping to make an impact. Grinnen, who competes at 195 pounds, got his feet wet in the junior varsity program four years ago. Before injuries derailed his season, Grinnen was 14-1 in matches last year and became the first wrestler to win the Midwestern Athletic Conference Tournament at the 195-pound weight class in school history.
“He really did a nice job near the end of the season. Right around playoff time, he broke his hand. He didn’t get a chance to compete through that,” Alberts said. “He’s very physical and he isn’t afraid. His technique is getting better every year.”
The junior class features five lettermen, Grinnen, Jordan Lemanski, Bryan McCarthy, Donnie Kerr and J.T. Baldelli, who Alberts hopes will provide the a foundation for the team going forward.
“They have the makings of starting something that hasn’t happened,” he said. “They’re making a name for themselves in that aspect. They’ve had a little success as well. Success breeds success. There’s a chance they do make a name for themselves. They’re focused when it times to go to work, they do well on and off the mat.”