When Steve Peters took over as head coach of the Abington Heights varsity wrestling team in 2014, he wanted to change the culture within the program.
He feels progress has been made and took the team to a wrestling camp at Penn State University, July 10-13, to reinforce his principles and introduce the student-athletes to elite performers.
Penn State University has won five of the last six NCAA Division 1 Team National Championships, including four straight from 2011-14, and at least one member of the Nittany Lions has captured an individual national championship the past six seasons.
“Penn State is the cream of the crop as far as collegiate wrestling goes,” Peters said. “It was an amazing opportunity to have our guys meet their wrestlers and get an understanding of what it takes to compete at that level.”
Penn State’s head coach, Cael Sanderson, also happens to be one of the most decorated wrestlers in the history of the sport. He won an Olympic gold medal at the 2004 games in Athens, Greece and finished his college career at Division 1 Iowa State University with a 159-0 record and four National Championships.
“He’s probably the best to ever compete in the sport, so meeting him was like a rock star moment,” Peters said.
In addition to receiving instruction from Olympic and NCAA Division 1 champions, Peters also believes spending four days as a group will pay dividends for the squad in the upcoming season.
“We ate every meal together, we worked out together, and we spent all our free time together,” he said. “We became more of a family than just a team.”
Rising junior Chris Langan plans to implement the skills and lessons acquired through the camp into his daily routine.
“As a wrestler, I learned it’s important to always keep moving your feet and pushing the pace in matches,” he said. “As a person, I learned to always work hard. If you keep working hard, you will find success.”
According to Langan, members of Penn State’s team provided hands-on instruction throughout the camp.
“They would walk around and spend 15 to 30 minutes with each wrestler on individual drills,” he said. “They taught us a lot of really good technique. We learned scrambling from some of the best wrestlers in the nation.
“I learned technique is just as important as strength,” Langan added. “I have to drill with as many guys as I can to learn different styles of wrestling if I want to have a big year.”
The camp featured high school teams from all around the country and Peters feels that exposure will be beneficial to the group.
“It was a great opportunity to get new competition and see what it’s like outside of the Lackawanna League,” Peters said.
Peters left the camp confident the framework he’s laid during his tenure will help members of the team continue to grow and improve on and off the mats.
“I feel we’re doing the right things to rebuild the team and program,” the third-year coach said. “It doen’t happen overnight, but we’re taking steps in the right direction. The kids are working harder and are more invested.”
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.