Kevin Grupe wanted to change things when he took over as head wrestling coach at Albany Academy four years ago.
Given the Cadets’ performance at last weekend’s state qualifier, the change has taken place.
“It was a matter of changing the culture,” said Grupe, a former Galway wrestler who will be coaching three wrestlers at this weekend’s state championships. “There were certain things I wanted to change. The biggest thing was getting more of them to commit to wrestling year-round.
“At Academy, everyone is required to play two sports, and kids used to come out for wrestling just to fill that requirement. Now, we’re getting kids who want to be there, whose primary sport is wrestling.”
The best example of the culture change is senior Matt Morris, a transfer from Bethlehem, who won his second Section II, Division II title last weekend. He beat reigning state champ Luis Weierbach in the 120-pound final, his second win over the Hoosick Falls senior this season.
“This time [going to states] means a little more, because I’m a senior and I had to beat a state champion to get there,” said Morris, who will be joined by teammates Sam Delarge (138) and Cam Milliken (152) at the state tourney.
Morris went 0-2 at last year’s state tournament, drawing the top seed in his first match. A year older and a year wiser, Morris brings a 43-0 record — and 157 career wins — into his final high school tournament.
“He’s a very cerebral kid, and he’s that way on the mat,” said Grupe. “He will find a way to beat you.”
That was the case in his two matches with Weierbach, a 1-0 decision early in the year, and last weekend’s sectional final, where Morris got the first takedown and was able to dictate the pace of the match.
“It helped some that I had wrestled him earlier,” said Morris.
Delarge and Milliken came into the postseason less heralded than Morris, but came away just as successful.
“Sam’s been steadily getting better each year,” said Grupe. “He started at the bottom and has worked his way up. One offseason, he had over 100 matches.
“Cam has had shoulder injuries that have kept him off the mat. He lost one complete year, and they eventually did surgery and grafted bone from his hip to his shoulder, so he missed his entire junior year.”
All three Cadets have been around long enough to have passed the 100-win mark.
The Albany Academy wrestlers compete year-round with the Titan Wrestling Club, under coach Jefferson LaMountain. That has helped raise the program’s numbers, and given the wrestlers more mat time in the offseason.
“Last year, we placed three in the top six at the state qualifier,” Grupe said. “This year, we had six. That’s the progress we want to see.”