He's in his third go-round with The Hill School wrestling program.
In his return as head coach, Mark Pearson has a goal to return the team to its previous level of prominence. And he has the plan to accomplish it.
"I came back to Hill in 2011, in large part, to fulfill what I felt like was the unfinished business of returning Hill to the top of the National Prep standings,' Pearson said.
Part of the plan involves upgrading its schedule, adding tournaments like the Beast of the East (in 2015) to competitions like the Caruso Invitational, Christmas City and Escape from the Rock already in place. Another part is taking on prep-school powers like Blair Academy — like Hill, a member of the Mid-Atlantic Prep League — and Wyoming Seminary, using them as measuring sticks for the program's resurgence.
"Our goal is to overtake Blair and Wyoming Seminary as the best prep school wrestling team in the country,' Pearson said. "It's an audacious goal, I know, but when I was here before (1995 to 2000), we were second and third at National Preps.'
Pearson is intimately familiar with the history of Hill wrestling from both sides of the spectrum. He's a 1978 Hill graduate who wrestled there four years, then returned in 1995 to head the mat program after four seasons coaching at St. Alban's School in Washington, D.C.
Doctor Pearson — he has a Ph.D and is on the school's English department faculty — continued his athletic career wrestling for four years at the University of Michigan. He also coached at the collegiate level, for Franklin & Marshall College and Millersville University, in the years following his 1982 graduation from Michigan.
"I was excited to come back here in 1995,' he said. "I wanted to get the program back to where it was.'
The Hill's storied mat program achieved national prominence under the guidance of Frank Bissell (Class of 1933). It won 17 National Prep School championships during his tenure, with two alumni, Hud Sampson (Penn State 1949) and Andy Fitch (Yale 1954) claiming NCAA titles.
Pearson's first coaching stint at the Hill was marked by 18-2 and 14-2 records in 1998-99 and 1999-2000, respectively. In conjunction with his return in 2011, the Blues had a national champion in current senior Chad Saunders, and a 2012 bronze medalist in Colin Farawell (Class of 2012), who pinned his way against the opposition to win the tourney's award for most falls in the least amount of time.
"I said, let's get the school back up to the level where it was,' Pearson said. "I put out the desire to get the program back up by entering those tournaments.'
The Blues came into the current campaign with a stable of top-flight wrestlers. Saunders, John Hill (220), Kostya Golobokov (285) and Nick Flanigan (160) all qualified for National Preps last year; Saunders was a runner-up, and Flanigan placed eighth.
Additionally, Golobokov was second at the USA Wrestling's Northeast Regional in the spring of 2013. Two other Blues, Zach Sheehan and Brent Waterman, had a combined five Maine state titles during their scholastic careers.
"Our numbers are bigger this year,' Pearson said. "We had some attrition, kids who didn't come out for the team this year. But overall, our competitiveness is up.
"Inquiries and interest in the program have gone up,' he added. "Having a big year will help us get the word out.'
One positive from the current season was the Hill's showing in the Bissell ' 33 Hill Tournament it hosted this past weekend. The Blues produced 11 medalists while finishing second in the team standings behind Malvern Prep (231.5-172).
Waterman and Golobokov were champions at 152 and 285, respectively, while four teammates — Sheehan (132), Saunders (145), Flanigan (160) and Hill (220) — scored silver medals. Dymir Davis-Carruth (182) was third; Grady Craig (138) and Cameron Dewy (170) were fourth; Will Hare (195) was fifth; and Xavier Friel (120) placed seventh.
"Everything came together,' Pearson said. "We were in the running.
"We were further behind Malvern Prep than I wanted to be. But it was a good gauge of where we are. I'm happy ... last year, we were fourth out of eight teams.'
Building up the Bissell ' 33 event is another part of Pearson's plan. This year's tournament had an 11-school field drawing the likes of The Hotchkiss School (Lakeville, Conn.) and Gonzaga College High School (Washington, D.C.) to wrestle alongside regional entities like Malvern Prep, Haverford School, Friends' Central and George School.
"This is a tournament we're hoping will grow ... increase and get bigger,' he said. "Bringing in teams like Gonzaga and Hotchkiss gives it a nice geographic spread.'
In advance of next weekend's appearance at the "Escape the Rock' tourney, the Blues will participate in a tri-match Wednesday against MAPL rival Lawrenceville and St. Benedict's Prep. They will have multi-school matches each of the next two weeks (Jan. 24 and 31), then the MAPL Duals on Feb. 8 in advance of the Pa. Independent Schools and National Prep tournaments the weekends of Feb. 14 and 21.
"I think we're right where we should be, coming back from vacation,' Pearson said.
"We need to work on our technical aspects, and improve our conditioning to peak at the state tournament.'
YET ANOTHER "CENTURY-ON'
Another week, another wrestler reaching the 100-win mark for his scholastic career.
The latest was The Hill School's Chad Saunders, who achieved that feat in the opening round of the school's Bissell ' 33 Tournament Saturday. Saunders' first-period pin of Mercersburg Academy's Dan Shapiro made him the eighth wrestler in the history of the Hill mat program to score triple digits in victories.
Christian Fernandez scored a gold medal for Daniel Boone when it participated in the Berks County Interscholastic Athletic Association (BCIAA) Individual Tournament this past weekend at Reading High.
Fernandez (24-2) recorded two pins — one in a mere 25 seconds — to sweep the 160-pound bracket. He headed a Blazer contingent that saw two other wrestlers, Owen Powell and Shayne Bookwalter, place fourth at 120 and 170, respectively, with 2-2 records.
Joe Yohn (138) and Mason Hoffman (220) also went 2-2 at their weights, both advancing to the tourney's consolation-semifinal round before being eliminated.
Pope John Paul II participated in the Church Farm School Individual Tournament this past weekend, with a trio of upper-tier medalists to show for its efforts.
Kirk Cherneskie and Luke Genetti scored silver, Cherneskie going 2-1 (two pins) at 182 while Genetti was 1-1 at 195. Vinnie Togno was fourth at 145, going 3-2 with one pin to his credit.
Other Panthers showing a measure of success at the tourney were Nick Yerger (120) and Chase Sheldon (160), both placing fifth with winning records. Yerger had two pins as part of his 3-2 outing, with Sheldon 2-2. Kevin Shirey also went 2-2 (one pin) at 170.
The pre-seeds for the "Escape the Rock' Tournament are in, with The Hill School and Owen J. Roberts seeing a combined seven wrestlers accorded high seedings for the weekend competition at Council Rock South.
Fourth-seeded status was accorded to the Blues' Chad Saunders and the Wildcats' Derek Gulotta at 145 and 113, respectively. The Hill's Kostya Gobolokov is sixth at 285, all in the upper tier of wrestlers seeded in the Top 12 of their weight classes.
Gaining eighth seeds were the Hill's Dymir Davis-Carruth (182) and Owen J's Dominick Petrucelli (145). The Blues' Zach Sheehan is an 11th seed at 132, with OJR's Demetri D'Orsaneo 12th at 138.
As they move toward a possible regular-season championship duel later this month, Boyertown and Spring-Ford will face off against some of the league's other highly-ranked teams this week.
The Bears — at 4-0 sharing the circuit's lead with the Rams — will host Methacton (2-0) Thursday after visiting Phoenixville Wednesday. Spring-Ford, in turn, will venture across the river Wednesday to visit neighboring rival Owen J. Roberts (2-1).
Another PAC pairing of note will see Perkiomen Valley (2-2) host Pottsgrove (1-1) Wednesday.
Follow Jeff Stover on Twitter at @MercuryXStover.