North Xtra: Young coach, 22, takes over at Mars; no waiting for football players at NA

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Bart LaLonde is still attending college, but that hasn't stopped him from reaching his goal of becoming a head wrestling coach at a high school.

LaLonde is the new head coach at Mars Area High School.

"I was Zach Maisner's varsity assistant [at Mars] last year," said LaLonde, a 2009 Seneca Valley graduate. "Zach accepted a teaching job at Canon-McMillan and felt the drive to Mars every day would be too much. When he resigned, I applied for the job."

At 22 years of age, LaLonde, a senior at Slippery Rock University majoring in criminal justice, is one of the youngest coaches in the WPIAL.

"I may be young, but I am confident of what I can do as a coach," LaLonde said.

LaLonde, a three-year starter at Seneca Valley, actually began his coaching career two years ago.

"I was the junior high coach at Slippery Rock High School during the 2011-12 season," LaLonde said. "I was also able to help [former Seneca Valley coach] Tom Tomeo with some camps. I really appreciate the help Tom has given me."

Mars had a 7-6 overall record last season, but the Planets were 1-4 in Section 3-AAA matches. Six starters from that team have graduated.

"We have 18 kids on the roster," said LaLonde. "Right now, we don't have anybody at 138 and 195, but we can move kids around to fill those weight classes.

"I have a lot of confidence in my kids. We have some talented kids coming back and new kids with a lot of promise. I'm really looking forward to the season."

LaLonde's top returnee is Nathan Bair (13-12 at 182).

A 'full boat' at NA

For the first time in four years, North Allegheny coach Jamie Kyriazis began practice with a full roster.

That's because North Allegheny's football team lost in the WPIAL quarterfinals. That ended a string of three consecutive WPIAL Class AAAA titles.

The Tigers also made PIAA appearances in each of those seasons and claimed two state titles, thus delaying the start of wrestling season for several member of the football team who also wrestle.

"It's been years since I started practice with everybody," Kyriazis said. "I've had to wait until the end of December to get my kids who play football. It's great for the school to have such a successful football program, but it's also nice to have everybody in the practice room when the season begins."

The Tigers wrestling team overcame that inconvenience last year by placing third in the WPIAL Class AAA Team Tournament and qualifying for the PIAA tournament. Four starters from that team have graduated, including a pair of PIAA qualifiers.

"We have a nice nucleus of kids of coming back along with a group of talented newcomers to fill the graduation losses," Kyriazis said. "We have 32 kids in the practice room and some freshmen who may move up to the varsity."

North Allegheny's top returnees are Dom Forys (43-5 at 113), Jesse Rodgers (40-7 at 138) and Zach Smith (35-10 at 195). Forys is a two-time PIAA place-winner who finished fifth in the state last season. Rodgers placed fourth in the PIAA last season.

Graduation attrition

Hampton and Butler, two teams that qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA Team Tournament last season, were hit hard by graduation losses.

The Talbots must replace seven starters who graduated. They combined for 231 victories, including a pair of PIAA qualifiers.

"I've never had that many starters graduate from one team," Hampton coach Joe Bursick said. "We're not going to set the world on fire this season, but we will compete for a playoff spot."

Bursick has 30 wrestlers on his varsity squad.

"Our numbers are great," Bursick said. "And only one kid is new to the sport. Everybody else has come up through our program. We are raw in some areas, but I'm pleased with what I've seen thus far."

Hampton's top returnees are Brandon Olszewski (30-9 at 170) and Patrick Keyser (18-18 at 106).

Butler must replace six graduating starters who combined for 161 wins. All six were WPIAL qualifiers.

The Tornado's top returnees are Connor Faust (27-11 at 113), Cody Houston (32-10 at 132) and Ryan Hannon (33-5 at 170).

The football 'thing'

North Catholic's new coach, Taylor Letters, hasn't started practice yet. And he's not sure when practice will begin.

"All of my wrestlers are playing football," said Letters, a Shaler Area graduate who served as Dan Sefick's assistant last season.

North Catholic's football team claimed its first WPIAL title Saturday, qualifying the Trojans for the PIAA tournament, which starts this week.

"I have no idea when the football season will end," Letters said. "It could be a couple more weeks. And I'm not even sure how many are planning to wrestle.

"It's great to have the football team doing so well, but it hurts the wrestling program."

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