Former Penn State wrestler and current Lock Haven coach Scott Moore is building something special with the Bald Eagles.
Last season, they had their first NCAA finalist since former Nittany Lion Cary Kolat in 1997, and their first All-American since 2015.
In fact, Lock Haven had two All-Americans last year in finalist Ronnie Perry, who lost to Penn State’s Zain Retherford, and Chance Marstellar, who finished fourth at 165 pounds.
Moore spoke with the Centre Daily Times about how some former Centre County wrestlers have transitioned to wrestling with the Bald Eagles, the hard work it has taken to build a successful program and more before his team heads to the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn.
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Q: What do you guys look to get out of the Southern Scuffle?
A: With our schedule, it’s just another opportunity to wrestle some of the better programs and expose our guys to more top-20-ranked opponents. It really has an NCAA feel to it. They do a really good job down there (at the University of Chattanooga Tennessee), just the whole production and the environment is like a smaller scale NCAA tournament.
It’s just having our guys wrestle in a big venue and getting used to the nerves and competing against some of the bigger programs. Last year was our first year down there, and the guys liked it. We had a decent performance, but hopefully this year guys will be a little bit more comfortable and we can get four or five place-winners.
Q: Do you feel having that experience last year helped your guys at nationals, too?
A: I think so. Some of the guys that didn’t do well at the Scuffle turned around and had a pretty good finish at EWLs and NCAAs. Ronnie Perry, I think, only went 1-2 down there and Corey Hazel something similar, but obviously those guys performed at the end of the year and got the cobwebs off. Thomas Haines got hurt down there (at the Scuffle) but he had a pretty good performance. I think he won four or five matches before he got hurt. It’s kind of like the midseason nationals, midseason event to peak for and see where you are at.
Q: Would you say last year’s team was the most successful and/or best team you’ve had?
A: Yeah, I would say so in terms of talent and depth and then in terms of performance in the big matches with PSAC title and EWLs. Guys stepping up like (Alex) Klucker with a pin in the finals and Hazel stepping up for the team at the EWLs, which is a big event for us and not winning it in 21 years.
In terms of confidence and chemistry, getting the numbers to the national tournament, six guys out there and having some pretty good performances with two All-Americans. Even watching Corey Hazel almost upsetting the fifth seed and beating the 12th seed, just the way we wrestled in general was a different level than what I’ve seen in our teams in the past.
Q: How have you seen Brock Port make transition from high school to college?
A: He’s doing well. Last year, he had a late start. He didn’t start competing until second semester due to some health conditions he had in high school. He had a couple of tournaments. This year, he has come back and has wrestled well. He has continued to develop and build some strength. I think he is a guy that will definitely be a big part of our team at the end of the year and down the road as he progresses.
He is good on top, really good from all positions. He just has to continue to make the gains that he needs, I think more strength-wise is where he is lacking right now. Being a longer, taller 149-pounder, he’s proved he can compete, he took second in a tournament last weekend.
He is kind of making strides. He’s a guy, that just like he did in high school, will continue to develop and be an impact guy on the team down the road.
Q: Similar question for Garrett Rigg; he came from Bald Eagle Area, which has a tremendous history with their program. What have you seen from him?
A: Garrett is a little bit different situation because he came in with a broken wrist. He hasn’t been able to compete. He is starting to practice again. He’s a big part of the team and morale booster. He’s a team player and always positive.
Coming in with the injury he finished with last year, I think it kind of kept him from reaching the potential that he had. It’s a little bit of a lingering injury. Having him around is great for the team. He is always working hard and hustling, and doing whatever we need in the room, whether that is cleaning up weights, pushing somebody or getting an extra drill in. He’s a great utility guy right now.
Q: Where have you seen the most growth in Corey Hazel since he’s been with the program to where he is today?
A: Mostly consistency. He’s always been a competitor and been in big matches. Now, he is consistently finding ways to win matches and his maturity.
Coming in, he was a little young and coming from a small school, it was a little bit tougher transition for him. Academically, he is doing very well. He is a positive and hardworking kid. He’s found a way to compete in big matches and score a lot of points. He’s very athletic for the weight class and has a lot of good offense.
Last year at EWLs, he won a big scramble to win that match in the finals. He is using his athletic ability to get ahead of matches and open up his scoring. He has definitely improved a lot. He’s one of our guys, not only are we excited about this year, but him having another year after this.
Q: Can you talk about how Centre County’s wrestling is above the norm?
A: Central Pa. is a great place for wrestling. You got a lot of great wrestling minds at all levels from the elementary all the way up to the collegiate level.
I think what you see is you see a lot of coaches that have competed at the Division I level, now coaching and managing programs like Mike Maney at Bellefonte, Ryan Cummings at State College and Biff Walhizer at Central Mountain. You have guys that competed at the level and know what it takes. They are putting the extra work in. We all know wrestling is like a 12-month sport. There is just coaches that have just been through the ropes. They understand that importance of building up wrestlers’ development.
The other part is it’s just well-organized. You see youth programs and how many numbers they have. There is a lot of participation. There is a push behind the participation and the competition. This weekend, there were some scrimmages that a lot of elementary programs are involved with. I think they work together to promote wrestling as coaches and work together to build up and develop wrestlers of all ages in the area.
Having the bigger clubs like the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, M2 Wrestling Club, 4M Wrestling Club, there are just so many different clubs that allow the opportunities and the exposure for our younger wrestlers to compete and develop. It definitely helps prepare these guys as they go into high school and fast-forward into college.
Q: We talked a little bit at nationals but what was truly going through your mind when you guys were having the success that you had?
A: As it was going on, it was pretty cool. It was one of those moments, where you always picture your guys winning and what if he beats this guy what would happen. The things just started to come true. One guy would build on another. Just by watching each other and getting excited and believing in each other, things started to happen that just haven’t happened in a long time for our program. I contribute it to these guys just buying into the process, believing in themselves and ultimately stepping up and competing at the national tournament.
The national tournament is really about who shows up and wants it. These guys put the effort in and had the right attitude. They made it fun for our fans and really anybody that was in attendance at the NCAA tournament, took in some of those matches like Ronnie beating Sorensen from Iowa.
For us, it was surreal. It definitely made it the best weekend that I’ve coached in my 15 years of coaching Division I wrestling. It was the most exciting weekend I’ve been a part of. Just to have that opportunity to sit in the corner and be part of that excitement was really cool. You put in a lot of hard work, time and sacrifice and to see it pay off was pretty cool.
Q: With that excitement and the run you had last year, has that helped on the recruiting trail?
A: I think so. It’s really about exposure and guys seeing that you can develop student-athletes. You can offer them an environment they can be successful in. You get a lot more looks, but at the end of the day, it still comes down to fit and alignment. The money has to be right and the fit for academics has to be right. It certainly makes recruiting a lot easier.
You got to have something to sell. You go in there and you’re selling small school, a lot of history in our program, but you got to sell what you are doing now and the success that you’ve had. To be able to show some of these highlight videos or break out an EWL ring, or to talk about having a national finalist and someone on ESPN, it goes a long, long way.
Hopefully, what we are preaching is that we can develop you into being an All-American if you’re not a state champion or finalist, hopefully we can continue that trend. We have a lot of quality guys in our program and a lot of good ones coming next year. We got to continue that upward climb of developing guys into All-Americans.
Q: How hard is it for smaller schools like Lock Haven to be able to compete with the larger schools that have more resources?
A: It is very difficult. If you plan it out and you have the right business plan as far as the fundraising aspect, recruiting and you get the right people around your student-athletes, and you are true to what you preach as far as the hard work, consistency and making it a family atmosphere, it becomes a little bit easier.
We have a lot of supporters and alumni and that allows us to do what we do. We are not a funded program through the school. We are funded through donors and supporters, and people who believe in our program. That is really the challenging part — finding the funding year in and year out to continue to recruit the best guys and continue to travel across the country to compete. It’s fun. It’s a lot more rewarding when you build a small program, because you have a lot more buy in from your alumni and you get a lot more community support. People don’t expect you to be a top-20 or top-15 team, so when you do that, it adds a lot of value to what you are preaching, and to some of these proposals we are putting out to businesses or individuals to help fund our program.
There is just a lot more reward behind the success but the challenges are real. It’s an arms race in Division I with the Penn States, Lehighs, Ohio States, N.C. States, Virginia Techs. These guys have an insurmountable amount of money. You are talking about millions and millions of dollars of differences between what our program is funded and some of these other top-10 programs. We just work harder and smarter. When we get the results, there is just a bigger reward for it and a lot more personal touch to it as well. It makes it enjoyable.
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