After years of being an afterthought in YAIAA wrestling, the Central York Panthers have taken the scene by storm this season, racking up 10 wins, which equals the team’s total number of victories the last two seasons.
They recorded program-changing victories with wins over New Oxford, Dallastown and even a signature win over South Western – a team that’s had the Panthers' number for nearly four decades.
During that four-decade stretch the Panthers have put up a combined four seasons of 10 wins or more, while those three teams they beat combined for 24 double-digit win seasons since 2000.
And a big reason for Central's success in 2015-16 is first year head coach Seth Beitz.
Beitz is a 2010 graduate of Juniata High School and a 2014 graduate of Penn State. Following his silver medal finish at the 2010 PIAA Class AA wrestling championships at 140 pounds, Beitz continued his wrestling career as a Nittany Lion under head coach Cael Sanderson.
During his time on the mat in State College, Beitz was part of four consecutive national championship teams and received invaluable lessons from Sanderson that he now preaches to the Panthers. Central recently began their individual postseason with high expectations and exceeded those this past Saturday with a second place finish at the sectional tournament at South Western. The Panthers also sent six wrestlers to this weekend's District 3 tournament, their most in quite some time.
“You gotta love the sport, you gotta have fun and you’ve gotta have gratitude,” Beitz said after a recent practice. “Every day, you have to be grateful. It’s a privilege to be here to workout, it’s not a punishment to be here and work out with these guys.”
“I think when you start training with that mindset, wrestling, I mean, working out, just becomes a lot more fun and guys don’t mind being here.”
One wrestler who has taken that mindset to heart this year is senior Xavier Musti. Last year, Musti nearly quit the team in late January because he was tired, exhausted. But he plugged away anyway to the District 3 Class AAA semifinals. This year, things are different.
Prior to Beitz's arrival, the Panthers had gone through significant turnover in the coaching ranks, having three head coaches the previous four seasons.
“Having coach Beitz, he just really bring a lot of positivity,” Musti said. “With knowing I could’ve done better last year at Districts and went to states, I think having Seth’s positivity this year and it being my senior year, I think this year I’m ready for another go at Districts.”
Three-time PIAA qualifier Dylan Chatterton also said he’s noticed a change this season.
“(Beitz has) made wrestling so much fun," Chatterton said. "I’ve always enjoyed wrestling, but you couldn’t see that a few years ago in my teammates.”
Chatterton added, “Everyone didn’t enjoy coming in the room, now you see people sticking around after practice and enjoying wrestling and to just keep grinding."
That enjoyment was evident at a recent practice as Beitz pushed the wrestlers through a rigorous 20-minute session of live wrestling.
With heavy breathing audible throughout the room, Beitz called for the ultimate tiebreaker the final 30 seconds. In the ultimate battle of pride, the goal is to escape or to not allow the opponent to escape.
That can be difficult enough after a six-minute match and two minutes of overtime. To do it after 20 minutes of match-pace simulated workouts? That’s a testament to Beitz and his change in attitude.
“Yeah, we’re doing a lot in the room, but we’re in and we’re out,” Chatterton said. “That’s what’s helping us not get sore and not get burned out. A lot of our wrestlers like what coach is going after.”
In the year Beitz has been in charge of the program, the look, the feel, the intensity, everything about Central York wrestling has changed.
“When I came here last year, I saw this was a talented group of guys,” said Beitz. “It was a group of guys that wanted to work hard… They listen if you say something, they buy in, they listen to it and they execute hard.”
The team bought in, taking it all the way to a second place finish in Division I, the best in program history. They also reached double-digit wins for just the second time since 1977 the most recent being 2010-2011.
“I knew even in my freshman year that whenever I was a senior, we’d have a pretty tough team,” said Chatterton. “Coming into this year, I mean, I had high expectations other years, so I didn’t really think too much of it. I knew that we were going to have a good team (when) our mentality totally took a 180.”
High school wrestling postseason
Central York and other local teams take the mats this weekend in the sectional tournament. All local Class AAA teams head to South Western Saturday while the Class AA teams head up the river to Susquenita.
After the sectional tournament on Saturday comes the District 3 tournament, held at Hersheypark, Arena, Feb. 26-27.
After the District tournament, the Class AAA wrestlers get a week off while the Class AA wrestlers head to Wilson High School just outside of Reading for the PIAA Southeast Regional tournament, March 4-5.
The last postseason tournament is the PIAA tournament held March 10-12 at Hershey's Giant Center.