Kyle Martin has his sights set on Paris … and it’s not for romance.
The 2004 Connellsville graduate has a goal of sending one of the wrestlers that he coaches in freestyle for Team Pennsylvania to the 2024 Olympic Games.
“I would love it if we could develop an Olympian in the area by 2024,” Martin said. “I know that might still be shooting a little bit high. There is a possibility of USA Wrestling opening up a regional training center in the area, and they’ve asked if I would be interested in coaching that, which would be a phenomenal opportunity for all the athletes around here. If we can help our guys get more experience in freestyle and Greco-Roman through the seasons, I’m all for it.”
Martin’s wrestlers took a big step in their progression on July 15 when Team Pennsylvania won the 2019 USMC/USAW 16U Nationals at the FargoDome in Fargo, North Dakota. He also coached the kids’ team to national championships in Greco-Roman and freestyle in Wisconsin, and guided the Pennsylvania team in the national duals to a third-place finish in Spokane, Washington.
“The most humbling thing for me this year was to be on the staff we had,” Martin said. “We had seven or eight Division I coaches on staff. Drew Headlee, who is originally from Waynesburg and coaches at Pitt, was on staff. We had a world-team member on staff in Danny Felix, and an NCAA champ in Gabe Dean on staff. You walk in the room every day, and it is really cool to be on staff with those guys.”
Pennsylvania scored 61 team points and crowned two champions to earn the title. Minnesota was second with 51 points and two champions and Ohio third with 50 points and one champion.
Pennsylvania’s Leonard Pinto and Kolby Franklin won titles at 170 and 220 pounds. Mac Stout (160) and Dustin Swanson (220) took second and Paniro Johnson (145) and Nicholas Feldman (182) were third. Levi Haines was fourth at 113.
Waynesburg’s Rocco Welsh was the highest place winner in the area. The incoming freshman took fifth at 120 pounds.
Welsh received a bye in the round of 128 before securing three victories to advance to the quarterfinals. He suffered a 5-3 setback to Oklahoma’s Jordan Williams. He came back to top Illinois’ Nain Vazquez, 6-2, in the blood round to assure a spot on the podium.
Welsh won his next match by forfeit before dropping a consolation semifinal bout to Wisconsin’s Nicolar Rivera. He bounced back to defeat Nebraska’s Garrett Grice by technical superiority, 12-2, in 3:20 for fifth.
“He (Welsh) lost a heartbreaker to the No. 1 kid in the country,” Martin said. “He was up, and with a few seconds left, got titled and turned. He’s a beast and is phenomenal. We have really good kids in the area, and they helped us to get to the national title.”
Jaden Pape was fifth at 94 pounds. Alejandro Herrera-Rondon (120), Erik Gibson (145) and Nathan Taylor (220) all took seventh.
“That is why this tournament is so freaking tough,” Martin said. “Alejandro is a two-time state champion from Seneca Valley and he took seventh. You go through a string of matches. You wrestle 11 matches through a two-and-a-half day tournament. You are not dominating guys out there. Everybody is at a real high level.”
Connellsville’s Jared Keslar was one win away from placing at 138, but suffered two setbacks in the consolations after advancing to the quarterfinals.
Keslar received a bye into the round of 64, where he pinned Indiana’s Cody Goodwin in 3:14. Keslar won by technical superiority over Iowa’s Dylan Whitt (14-3 in 3:13) and Missouri’s Logan Rathjen (13-2 in 3:57) before setbacks to Virginia’s Nicholas Vafiadis, who went on to take second, and Washington’s Thor Michaelson, who finished sixth.
Keslar and Welsh also wrestled for Martin at the national duals.
Welsh wasn’t the only Raider to compete at Fargo, as teammate Mac Church was one victory away from placing at 100 pounds.
Church opened up with back-to-back technical superiority wins over Iowa’s McKinley Robbins (10-0 in 1:45) and South Dakota’s Trason Oehme (10-0 in 2:24) in the rounds of 128 and 64 before earning a 6-0 decision over Georgia’s Darrell Rochester to advance to the round of 16.
Church dropped a 6-5 decision to Wisconsin’s Quintin Wolbert, but rebounded to defeat fellow Pennsylvanian Hunter Robison (11-0 in 2:29). Church lost to South Dakota’s Logan Graf, 3-2.
Church also competed for Martin on the Cadet National Dual team.
Waynesburg Central teammate Cole Homet was 2-2 at 126. He earned a 6-4 decision over Washington’s Abel Nava in the round of 128 before losing by fall in 3:38 to Minnesota’s Derrick Cardinal, who went on to place fifth. Homet rebounded with a 10-0 technical superiority win in 2:48 over Hawaii’s Joy Kahilihiwa. Homet’s tournament ended in the next round of consolations when he was pinned in 32 seconds by Colorado’s Dominic Hargrove.
“Fargo is the toughest tournament, by far,” Martin said. “Just the amount of guys in it. Sam Hillegas, who is from North Hills, is the No. 2 kid in the country, and in the first round, he wrestled the fifth best kid in the country. They don’t do a big seeding there. Everybody is just thrown together. They all have to qualify, and there are 120 plus kids in each bracket. We take our best guys out there.”
Connellsville’s Chad Ozias wrestled at 100, and went 2-2 with victories over Oregon’s Kyren Johnson (10-0 in 29 seconds) and Georgia’s Beau Fischer (10-0 in 29 seconds) and losses to Texas’ Troy Guerra (13-2 in 2:40) and Carson Laughery (12-7).
“All of the guys from the area wrestled really well,” Martin said. “We had several guys that were one match away from placing.”
Despite the success in Fargo, Martin knows there is a great deal of work to be done to reach the goal of sending one of his grapplers to the Olympics.
“I have learned that every day you don’t try to improve, it’s a day that these other countries are improving to beat you,” Martin said. “They want Olympic and World medals, too. They want the best athletes and want to improve. I think that’s the important thing. I try to do something every day and improve as a coach, and we do this every day.
“At Fargo, we stuffed a lot of shots and defended shots, but we stopped. We got stuck in a front headlock and didn’t score from there, and just got put back on our feet. I think we lost a lot of opportunities to score there.
“The No. 1 thing that hit us was that we were ahead with 20 to 30 seconds left in a lot of matches and lost. We gave up position, we went to our heels, we tried to wrestle on the edge and kind of shut down our offense. That is the big thing we can improve on. Immediately, my brain has to go back to some sort of purpose we need to work on. I think once you are complacent with something like that, you become stagnant in coaching.”
Martin, who wrestled for the father and son duo in high school of Tom Dolde Sr. and Tom Dolde Jr., still pinches himself when he heads to practices or competitions and sees some of the best wrestlers in not only the United States but the world.
“I never put my name in, but every year now that I’ve been involved, they asked me to coach on that staff, and it’s an honor,” Martin said. “I am working with national champs and Division I coaches. Every time I go there, I still have to take a step back. What am I doing at the Olympic Training Center? Everybody is in on the same fight, and that’s what’s cool about it, and the wrestlers want the best technique.
“The first time I went out there, I don’t know what I’m doing, and they say, ‘Prepare one or two sessions and technical trends we need to work on.’ I didn’t think I was going to be showing anything. They throw you in the fire, and I almost look around, you have to be joking, right? I mean, Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder are in the room. You are either going to accept that and succeed in that environment, or you are not going to be invited back. It is so much more comfortable now, but it’s a team effort.”
PIAA may move to 12 weight classes for high school
The PIAA is entertaining the possibility of having the number of weight classes in high school reduced from 14 to 12 starting in the 2020-21 season.
The new weight classes would be 110, 118, 125, 190 and 215. The 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170 and 285 divisions would remain in place.
“I believe that we put too much emphasis into dual meets,” Martin said. “In Pennsylvania, our numbers are where they we are because of that’s where we are. I understand both sides of the argument. Wrestling has become so individualized, I think. In college, there is no national duals tournament. It all comes down to NCAAs in March, which is an individual tournament, so I think that’s where the focus needs to be.”
Martin doesn’t believe eliminating weight classes is the way to go, and would like to see more coaches step up their game in regards to recruiting wrestlers.
“I put a lot of it on coaches,” Martin said. “Coaches should be recruiting every day for the sport. They should be trying to retain their athletes the whole way through their program, and developing them. That is my whole coaching philosophy.
“They should be Olympians in everything they do. Not everybody is going to make a world team, be a national champion or get a wrestling scholarship. It should never be about me. It should be about what’s best for these kids.”