Eric Knopsnyder After rough season, United wrestling program sees hope for future

Mar. 4—There will not be any United wrestlers competing at the West Super Regional on Saturday.

There weren’t any at the Southwest Regional last weekend, either.

In fact, the Lions didn’t advance anyone to the District 6 tournament. Coach Josh Henning’s squad had just two wrestlers in the postseason, and both were eliminated in the Section 4 tournament.

The regular season was even worse for the varsity squad, as it faced insurmountable odds in every dual meet. The Lions could have won every bout they wrestled and still been buried under an avalanche of forfeits to the opposition.

United went 0-12 and was outscored 642-42 in dual meets.

“You know going into the season, you can’t win a dual meet with one or two wrestlers,” Henning said on Tuesday. “The last few years, we haven’t been close to a full lineup.”

But there is hope on the horizon in Armagh.

It comes in the form of a junior high team that went unbeaten this season, with a 16-0 record in dual meets and a team championship at the Mountain Conference tournament in Berlin last weekend.

Mike Sees was honored as the junior high coach of the year by both the Mountain Conference and District 6. The 60-year-old previously coached at Shikellamy, where he was once named District 4 assistant coach of the year and where his son was a two-time PIAA runner-up.

The elder Sees moved to the Vintondale area nearly two decades ago and has been coaching in the United youth program for the past 4 ears, serving as the junior high coach for the past two.

The Lions are 25-1 since he took over, and they didn’t lose a single bout in 11 of their 16 dual meet victories this season. He has implemented a system that stresses an attacking style from the neutral position. Sees said that his wrestlers scored 203 takedowns this season while giving up just 31.

Filling the lineup is a bit of a problem at the junior high level as well — United only had wrestlers at 10 of the 15 weight classes at the Mountain Conference tournament — but the Lions were so good it didn’t matter.

Four United wrestlers won titles at the 18-team tournament — Jo Garshnick (87 pounds), Jacob Sombronski (101), Caden McCully (138) and Aiden Gallaher (145) — and two others — Gideon Bracken (108) and Colton Henning (115) — finished second. All 10 of United’s wrestlers placed in the top four of their weight classes.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Sees said.

“This is among the top two most dominant teams that I’ve ever coached.”

It’s not just United wrestlers who have benefited from his expertise. He said 17 wrestlers from seven different school districts are part of his Sees’ Basement Boys club, which he runs out of his home.

“In the 42 years that I’ve done that, I’ve had 42 young men get medals at Hershey,” he said of his wrestlers’ PIAA success. “I’ve had 12 in the finals. God gave me a great gift, and I just try to give back.”

The junior high and varsity programs practiced together at United, meaning that Josh Henning, whose son is on the junior high team, works closely with Sees.

“The coaching staff here, we’re like a family,” Sees said. “We all coach all aspects. In doing so, we built this family.”

Henning has played a key role in the development of the wrestlers as well. He coached at the elementary level when most of the current crop of junior high wrestlers were at that level.

“I’ve worked with these kids for the last seven or eight years,” Henning said. “It’s a good group of kids.

“They’ve been pretty dedicated the whole way up through. I could see the future, what was coming.”

In addition to their work at Sees’ club, many of the wrestlers also participate in the Lions Den Wrestling Club, which is run by Jesse Garshnick, father of Jo and a standout wrestler for United two decades ago.

More than a half-dozen of the junior high team members compete year-round, but the Lions’ success is also getting noticed by others in the school. Sees said that five football players have told him they plan to wrestle next season, and the coach has formed an alliance with the gridiron program at United.

“I’m going to work with them on how to move people, learn angles,” he said. “They’re going to give me an hour a week to learn our moves.”

Four of the junior high wrestlers are freshmen, meaning they’ll be at the varsity level next year, and several others are expected to compete on the high school team as ninth-graders.

That should make next year’s varsity squad more competitive.

“They’re not going to jump into an undefeated season next year, but it’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Henning said. “It’s going to be a fun couple of years.”

Leave a Reply