Head coach was not the position Mike Sernoffsky expected to be holding on the Elizabethtown Area High School wrestling team entering the 2018 season. But it’s the one he has.
After retiring from the role in 2015 following a 33-year tenure, Sernoffsky returned a year later to serve as an assistant under new head coach Troy Hoffman. However, health issues for Hoffman resulted in the two essentially switching positions just a few weeks before the start of this season. In spite of the suddenness of the move, Sernoffsky praised the rest of the staff (assistants Ryan Brubaker, Julius DiRisio, Lucas Kline, John Longenecker and William Van Winkle) for helping him ease back into things.
“I was doing a lot of the administrative stuff last year anyway, so that part’s not foreign,” Sernoffsky said. “It’s just making decisions again. In a way, Troy and I were co-coaches. He’d bounce stuff on me, but he’d have the final say. It’s so nice to have some great assistants. I’m looking forward to it because of the staff that we got.”
Sernoffsky knows Elizabethtown wrestling better than anyone, so he’s well aware that this year’s team will have its work cut out for it. After a tremendous season in 2016 where they finished 15-3, the Bears fell to 6-8 last year. Just two of their wrestlers, Blake Andrews and Noah Myers, medaled at sectionals, and neither advanced to districts. They, along with David Rich, have graduated, taking some successful records along with them (Andrews: 26-7, Myers: 21-13, Rich: 14-8).
“It was definitely tougher last year,” Sernoffsky said. “Two years ago, we had a special season. The team really jelled. Last year, there were spots, but it wasn’t quite as cohesive. You never know the chemistry of the kids. It’ll be interesting to see how this year goes. We have a real mix of experience. This is the last shot for the seniors, so we’re taking it really seriously. We got a couple of brand new kids out who are upperclassmen, which is an uphill battle when you don’t know the moves or technique someone else has been doing for years. I like the group we got. They’re pretty loose, and they’re having fun.”
Thankfully, four of the team’s five seniors saw varsity time last season. Cameron Olson was the most successful, finishing with a 20-10 record. Javan Thomas (13-12) won a match at sectionals, while Zach Frank (8-17) and Tyler Lanza each had victories at leagues, though the latter will miss the early part of this season due to injury. Among the other returning wrestlers, junior Cole Rice was solid at 14-14, while sophomores Cayden Spencer (10-19) and Bobby Walters (4-25) were able to get extensive experience as freshmen, albeit while taking some lumps.
“It’s gonna be some work,” Sernoffsky said. “Cameron is taking on that (leadership) role, which I think is really good. It’s a real tough thing for some kids when you put in the years some of them have. I don’t want them to think about it a whole lot, but this is their last go. I recognize that having seen so many of my sons graduate. I want them to relish and enjoy every second that they’re here. Wrestling is a very humbling sport, but the relationships you build and the lifelong lessons you take in are the things you’re gonna remember.”
However, the rest of the team is relatively green when it comes to high school competition. Senior Elijah Stackhouse, junior Ray Perez and sophomores Carter Schach and Uriah Ginder are all brand new to the team. Wyatt Mummau is the lone freshman this season as well. Sernoffsky is taking a measured approach to their development, emphasizing both their potential and the long-term benefits wrestling can provide.
“I’m very excited about those kids because I believe that wrestling is much more than just a sport,” he said. “They’re gonna grow. My goal is to see everyone who started the season finish. Winter sports season is the longest one. We have a tournament just before Christmas and another just after. It’s work, but I think as long as they stick with it, they’ll have fun. There’s gonna be days where it’s a real drag. If we can get the kids to perform, then I think we’re doing our jobs.
Still, given the thin numbers and nearly half of the roster’s inexperience, the Bears have a long way to go in order to truly compete in the Lancaster-Lebanon League. While Sernoffsky obviously would like to see the team win as many matches as possible, he also understands the unpredictable nuances of the sport. If Elizabethtown does well, so be it. But above all else, Sernoffsky will be satisfied if steps are made forward from last season.
“It’s a physical growth, but it’s also a mental game,” he said. “It’s (about) developing, and that’s what I want them to understand this year. Everyone’s got an opportunity now. That’s why I coach, to see that growth in the kids. Coaching is teaching, and it’s not just teaching a standup or takedown. You’re teaching values and attitudes. I feel good if I can help each kid reach his potential.”