The transition from assistant to head coach has been relatively smooth for Bart LaLonde at Mars Area High School.
But this 22-year-old rookie coach realizes there's still a lot of work to do to turn the Planets program into a consistent winner.
"The transition has gone smoothly," LaLonde said. "Having been here last year, knowing the kids and watching [former coach] Zach Maisner has made the process much easier. I also had the benefit of working with [former Seneca Valley coach] Tom Tomeo at some summer camps."
LaLonde also got a taste of what a head coach does when he was the head junior high coach at Slippery Rock during the 2011-12 season.
"There's obviously a lot more responsibility with coaching a varsity team," LaLonde said. "There's a lot more paperwork and meetings with the boosters club, but that's all gone very smoothly. Everybody has been very helpful."
LaLonde, a three-year starter at Seneca Valley who graduated in 2009, is still attending college.
"I'm a senior at Slippery Rock University majoring in criminal justice," said LaLonde, who is probably the youngest coach in the WPIAL. "I may be young, but I am confident of what I can do as a coach."
LaLonde had 18 wrestlers on his roster, but one has been lost for the season.
"Connor Williams suffered a back injury and is out for the season," said LaLonde of his 160-pound senior. "You hate to see anybody suffer a season-ending injury, but it's especially tough when the kid is a senior."
LaLonde's squad spent the weekend at Montour High School competing in the Midwestern Athletic Conference tournament. The Planets finished fifth in the 13-team field and had 10 wrestlers finish among the top six in their weight classes.
"I was happy with some things at the tournament, but it also showed me that we have a lot of room for improvement," LaLonde said. "I did expect a little more from the kids, but they all fought hard and gave it their best effort."
Nathan Bair was the only Mars wrestler who advanced to the finals in the two-day competition. Bair captured the 182-pound title with a 10-6 upset of Moon Area's Patrick Barcaskey in the title match.
"I can't say enough about Nathan," LaLonde said. "He had faced Barcaskey four times prior to this weekend and lost four times. But this was different. I could see it in his eyes before he stepped on the mat."
Bair was so excited after the victory that he jumped into LaLonde's arms.
"Nathan almost put me through the wall," Bair joked. "That was a big win for him. It was a turning point for him. It's a great feeling as a coach to see a wrestler pull off a win like that."
Four other Mars wrestlers finished among the top four. Joey Scanlon (106) and Silas Bender (132) were bronze medalists, while Alex Grosso (195) and Trey Turnblacer (285) placed fourth.
"Joey and Silas battled back to place third after losing in the quarterfinals," LaLonde said. "In fact, Silas avenged his only loss [to Hopewell's Kyle Davis] in the consolation final."
Jake Snyder (120) placed fifth for the Planets, while Jesse Chen (113), Noah Wright (126), Ryan Barnes (160) and Tony LaCava (220) placed sixth.
Mars entered the week with a 1-6 record in dual meets, which included an 0-2 record in section competition.
"I've geared our practices to concentrating on the individual aspect of wrestling," LaLonde said. "We're working with each kid on their technical approach. We want to get them ready for the postseason tournaments."