What happened during the offseason probably came as a bit of shock to the wrestlers at Tuscarora High School.
After completing one of the finer seasons in program history — led by recent graduate Austin Wenzlaff’s undefeated run to a state championship — coach T.J. Salb left the program for an opportunity at Oakdale.
Salb has been the head coach of the wrestling team for five seasons and it was clear the Titans were on an upward trajectory among a difficult grouping of Frederick County wrestling powerhouses.
Now, Tuscarora must regroup under new leadership — former Brunswick High coach Trey Coates.
“I don’t feel like we needed to be eased in [to the coaching change],” said Jordan Kadan, who will compete at 106 pounds. “Everybody came in ready to wrestle. Trey took charge, the assistants took charge and there have been no complaints from anybody. It was a seamless change.”
As with any coaching change, the scenarios of the turnover can play out differently. But for Coates, he agreed with Kadan, as far as the smoothness of the transition goes.
“Their attitude and willingness to work showed me it was a good decision to come here,” Coates said. “I don’t think I have a slacker on the team. I think they all want to work and genuinely get better.”
Coates coached for six years at Brunswick and was born and raised in Frederick. In fact, he graduated from Brunswick, which he said made his decision to leave more difficult.
“I spent the entire six years building the program, trying to do the best I could,” he said. “But opportunity doesn’t knock twice. It was a very difficult move, but once the [job] interview was over and I had a good talk, I decided this was a good move for me. The first week or so of practice really reaffirmed that.”
Salb also said the decision to leave Tuscarora was difficult for him, and he wishes nothing but the best for his former program — except, of course, when the Titans wrestle Oakdale.
“You leave a program, but you don’t want to see them fall by the wayside,” Salb said. “You hope that they’re able to maintain their success. The building blocks have been in place for tradition and you hope that continues to maintain itself.”
That said, the task at hand for Tuscarora won’t be easy. Despite a solid showing at the state tournament and a fourth-place finish in the county tournament last season, Tuscarora lost a lot of key pieces. Wenzlaff was at the heart of the team and won every match by a major decision, technical fall or fall last year. Then there was classmate Matt Wax who was a beast at 152. And promising 113-pounder Anthoney Savage moved out of the school’s zone and now is at Oakdale.
“People are making us an underdog, but we’re ready and we’re taking that underdog personality on,” Kadan said. “We’re using it to drive ourselves. Even when we lose powerful guys like that, I still definitely feel like this is going to be a strong year for us.”
In addition to Kadan, sophomore Mark Gugliemini, senior Austin Gentile, senior Billy Mills and sophomore Michael Pause all will be relied on as regular contributors to the Titans’ lineup. Wenzlaff’s younger brother Wesley is a freshman for the Titans this year and should help bolster a youthful group.
“I don’t mind being the underdog at all,” said Mills, who plans to wrestle at 170 pounds this winter. “This year, we’ll have to work harder as a team. Last year it came down to a couple really good wrestlers, but this year it’ll come down to every single guy winning or not getting pinned.”