After losing a state title-winning coach in Todd Herzog and a repeat state medalist in his son, Ty, last season, many were left thinking a down year was in the future of Northern Lehigh wrestling.
Oh, how they were wrong.
Behind first-year head coach, a former Bulldog wrestler himself, Steve Hluschak, NLHS has experienced one of its best team seasons in recent years. As of Jan. 31, they owned a 13-6 record overall and a 6-3 record in the Colonial League. Their 13 win total qualified the Bulldogs for the District 11 Team Duals and the new points ranking system delivered them the fourth seed in the bracket.
“Did I expect to be the fourth seed in districts?” Hluschak asked. “Absolutely not. I expected to see success. I knew we would get the kids to come out to the program and wrestle compared to some of the years in the past. I knew, for many reasons, that we were going to improve on what they did last year.”
Hluschak is improving with a young line-up as well. His roster includes only three seniors, Zach Leiby, Theo Young and Jayden Peters. However, his match line-up includes wrestlers from all grades as freshman Jason Schaffer, Austin Hemingway and Ryan Farber all are viable wrestlers who pick up key team points in any given match.
“Todd was a great coach here,” Hluschak said of the quick turnaround. “But I think these kids benefitted from having a new voice in the room. They have been coached two different ways now and with my coaching credentials, they believed in me. In coaching, you have to have a program and have confidence and believe in it.”
“My coaching staff and I have been successful everywhere we have gone,” he added. “So there is no reason to change what we are doing.”
Hluschak also noted that every wrestler has improved from last year and it is noticeable on the mats. As sophomore Matt Schmall, according to Hluschak, is poised to qualify for regionals and possibly even a run in Hershey. The aforementioned Farber, as a freshman, in the coach’s words, “is a legit wrestler,” as he has picked up nearly 20 individual wins in just his freshmen season.
His older brother, Nate, is a junior and is a leader on the team along with one of the most improved in the room. Along with him in leadership is fellow junior Austin Arnold.
On day one of the two-day team district duals on Jan. 30, Northern Lehigh earned a first-round bye with their fourth seed and faced Colonial League foe Catasauqua, who the Bulldogs lost to by one point in the regular season.
The Bulldogs earned their revenge and defeated the Rough Riders 39-31 to advance in the double-elimination tournament and will face nationally ranked Bethlehem Catholic on Feb. 1 (which occurred after deadline for this issue).
Hluschak, who is a former Bulldog football player, related the tournament to a postseason game on the gridiron.
“Every match is like a district playoff game,” he said. “If there is a district playoff game on a Friday night, then that is a very big game. We will need to bring our A game.”
The Bulldogs have graded high all season and already exceeded expectations. Passing a few more tests will be just extra credit towards a bright future on the mats for Northern Lehigh.