Marian, Haven partnership a win-win
Jared Spalti, left, and Mason Miller earned medals at the Schuylkill League Championships. The two are Marian students who are wrestling with Schuylkill Haven as part of a co-op. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
When it was announced in July that Marian would enter into a wrestling co-op with Schuylkill Haven, the potential impact remained unclear.
At the time, the partnership was still in its infant stages.
Details needed to be discussed. The finer points of the agreement had to be ironed out.
But it was obvious both schools – and the sport – would benefit.
“I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” Marian Athletic Director Stan Dakosty said at the time.
The payoff has been even greater than Dakosty could have imagined.
“I met with Stan probably in July, and we were kicking things over; what needed to be done,” said Hurricanes head coach Dave Osatchuck. “And I told him I’m all for it. Whatever I need to do to make this happen, I was gonna do it, because I needed to have this done to save the program.
“Without them coming down, the program would have died. And once a program dies at any particular school, it’s so hard to get back.”
The influx of four Marian student-athletes – Mason Miller, Jared Spalti, Nick Falls and Dakota Streisel – has pumped new life into the Haven program, one that faced the very real possibility of a lost season.
And potentially more.
“I had three,” Osatchuck said when asked about the program’s numbers, noting that one of those wrestlers is no longer on the team.
“I could have bumped up junior high (kids), but that’s like throwing lambs to the wolves. And that would have discouraged them a little bit. And next year, they would have said, I’m not coming out. So we keep them in junior high where they can get a little more experience, and now next year I will be bringing them up; I’ll bring four up. So with those four, and everybody from Marian’s coming back.”
All juniors, Miller, Spalti, Falls and Streisel have relished the opportunity to compete with the Hurricanes.
“It’s been really fun,” said Spalti. “I was at Mahanoy Area last year, and then when I transferred over to Marian, I was scared I wouldn’t be able to wrestle. But they picked us up, and I’m really grateful for it. I’m glad they picked us up, because I love wrestling.”
Miller was thrilled to restart his career after a long layoff.
“The last time I wrestled was in eighth grade back at Kutztown,” he said. “So it was nice to get back into wrestling. And i think that I got better with just the little time that I’ve started again.”
Both have flourished this season. Miller was fourth at the Schuylkill League Tournament wrestling at 220 pounds, while Spalti placed fifth at 285.
“Wrestling always was for me,” said Miller. “My whole family is a big wrestling family. So they kind of pushed me to do it, and I was happy to wrestle.
“My grandparents, when my uncle wrestled, they were part of the booster club and everything like that. And my mom would always help out with that stuff. They were really into wrestling.”
Their passion for the sport has helped to make it a seamless transition for both sides.
“The Haven guys love these guys,” said Osatchuck. “After practice every day, these guys get in a group, they go, ‘one, two, three family.’ They consider themselves family; the whole group.
“The wrestlers I had in there Colby Schaner (senior), Casey Chamberland (freshman), and the other one that is no longer on the team, they were looking forward to them coming down. I told them that they go to school at Marian, but as soon as they walk into that locker room, they wear a Haven singlet. They’re Haven. You treat them as if they’re school buddies, and they have. They’ve embraced them.
“There’s no resentment. They text each other after school; they’re friends. It brings students from different schools together. Casey or Colby would have never known who these guys were. And now they’re friends miles apart.”
The Marian quartet has worked together to bridge that gap.
“Usually, going to practice, I usually go with Mason, or our other teammate, Nick Falls,” said Spalti. “And then I’ll go home with Nick Falls to his house. He lives in Frackville. I’ll go to his house in Frackville, and then my parents will come from Barnesville and pick me up in Frackville.”
A new normal?
“We get to school, and then right after school, we just go straight down to Haven, which is like a 30, 45 minute drive,” said Miller. “And after practice, I just go straight home. We end around 5 p.m., and I usually get don’t get home until 5:30 or 5:45, so it’s not too bad.”
The change in routine required more fine-tuning beyond just travel.
“Coming off football, I thought I was conditioned,” said Spalti. “And then coming into the wrestling room, I was sucking wind. That surprised me, because in football, we run a lot. But we got in there and I started wrestling a two-minute match and I was having a hard time.”
“It’s two different types of conditioning,” added Miller.
But Osatchuck has helped to soften the blow for the newcomers.
“Jared I knew wrestled for Mahanoy Area last year, and I’m very good friends with Mark Lawrence, their coach,” he said. “So he gave me some insight as to what Jared did what he did with him; what he knew, what he didn’t know, what he needs to improve on.”
“Mason on the other hand, he’s green. But for a first-year wrestler, he’s not doing bad. It’s been good for both programs. Him and Nick Falls are two of the nicest athletes we have on the team.”
The partnership came to fruition after Marian was unable to work out an agreement with neighboring schools Panther Valley, Tamaqua and Mahanoy Area, according to Osatchuck.
But Dakosty, along with Schuylkill Haven Athletic Director Scott Buffington, worked to make the collaboration a reality.
“Marian had to go to all those surrounding schools first, and they all declined,” said Osatchuck “So it was up to him to go search any other school he wanted. And when we first met with Stan, Stan said at the Dunkin’ Donuts that he did some research, and he chose Schuylkill Haven because Haven is a good program; we always take somebody to states. And if we have, for the exception of this year, if we have seven or eight kids that we put out on the mat, 90 percent of those kids are winning.
“Our junior high program is thriving, but we won’t see any benefits from that for about two years. Then … I would like to keep it (the co-op with Marian) with then. But our own program will be giving me wrestlers by that time. But if it wasn’t for Marian, they saved it.”
What lies ahead is still to be determined. But there is no question the combined efforts of both schools have made a lasting impression that won’t soon be forgotten.
“I’m super grateful that the coaches picked us up, and that Schuylkill Haven took us in, because I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have wrestling this year,” said Spalti. “It’s my true passion.”
WINDING DOWN … Lehighton will host Jim Thorpe next Wednesday in the regular season finale for both teams. Palmerton will conclude its regular season Saturday at Schuylkill Haven. Panther Valley travels to Palisades tonight and wraps up its season Wednesday at home against Mahanoy Area. Tamaqua has three matches left: Saturday against Catty; Tuesday at Pen Argyl; and Wednesday at home against Blue Mountain. Northern Lehigh, Northwestern and Pleasant Valley have already completed their regular season schedules.
LOOKING AHEAD … With the District 11 team duals in the rearview mirror and the regular season entering its final week, area teams will soon turn their attention to the individual portion of the postseason. The district tournament is set for Friday, Feb. 22 and Saturday, 23, with Freedom and Liberty again serving as the host sites for the first two days. All finals and consolation finals in both classes will take place Saturday at Liberty. Look for a preview of the event as we get closer.
CLOSING IN … Lehighton’s Chris Whiteman sits at 97 wins heading into the final week of the regular season. He’ll have a chance to pick up one more victory before the postseason when the Indians wrestle Jim Thorpe on Wednesday. Whiteman was fourth at districts and qualified for regionals for the first time a year ago, and the senior looks primed for another postseason run as he gets set to close out his career.