Returning state qualifiers Zach Turner and Jordan Rugo, who are both seniors, head a nucleus of six returnees that will lead Allentown High School’s wrestling team — a District 25 runner-up last year — into the 2015-2016 campaign. It begins Dec. 19 with the Icebreaker Tournament in Old Bridge.
They will do it under the third wrestling coach in three years at Allentown: former SUNY Brockport wrestler Mitch Nock. Matt Merritt, who succeeded longtime coach Larry Kimport last season, said he had to step down for this season because of a family emergency.
“We have a really good mix — good underclassmen with senior leadership,” Nock said. “Just about the entire team is back. They’re good role models with the freshmen. We have a lot of newcomers who worked hard in the offseason.”
Nock recognizes their dedication.
“They’re passionate about wrestling,” he said. “They’ve worked hard and they’re great kids, great students and a pleasure to coach every day.”
Nock understands the rewards of commitment as a late bloomer himself at Marlboro High School before going on to wrestle at Brockport for teams that had 19 All-Americans and, in three of his years, were ranked among the top five teams in NCAA Division III. Nock received a master’s degree at Montclair State University in recreation leadership studies and sports management.
Over the past nine years, he worked in guest relations at Madison Square Garden and also was a day-to-day volunteer coach at Marlboro under William Werntz. When he learned of the opportunity to coach his own team and got the position, Nock left Madison Square Garden to teach as a substitute in Allentown’s physical education department and coach the Redbirds’ wrestlers.
“Both of my parents were teachers. It was my dream of being a teacher,” Nock said.
George Roth, a former head coach at St. Rose High School, is Nock’s assistant.
Rugo has a dream to return to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, something his older brother, Alex, did before embarking on a college career at Ithaca College. Jordan Rugo, who won 37 bouts last year, and Turner, who won 36, were district champions and thirdplace finishers in Region 7 last year at 152 and 182 pounds, respectively. Rugo will move up to wrestle either at 160 or 170, but Turner remains at the same weight.
Also part of that nucleus are seniors Theodoros Vlahos, a third-place finisher in the district at 220; Connor Marks at either 145 or 152; and 120-pounder Sebastian Rizzo, who lost in districts to the eventual state champion from Steinert High School; and sophomore Liam McDermott at 160.
“Rizzo is a good wrestler — one of the leaders in the [wrestling] room,” Nock said.
Last year’s team finished just below .500 and Nock, seeing the potential for this season with a deeper lineup and good balance throughout the weight classes, said he added teams from Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties to the schedule.
“[We will compete] not just [against] Mercer County so we could get the best competition possible,” Nock said.
The team opens its dual-meet schedule Dec. 23 at Hightstown High School before the holiday break and does not have a home match until mid-January.
Nock said time will tell how well this team will do, but one thing he said is certain.
“People will know some of their names at the end of the season,” the coach said.