A Malvern Wrestling Feature

Malvern Prep’s dominant wrestling program has made headlines and achieved outstanding success over the past couple of years and they are not done yet.

With the wrestling season still in question due to COVID-19 spikes, leadership is now more important than ever. Senior Victor Bucci shares his thoughts on the importance of the Malvern Brotherhood during a pandemic.

“We are so close as a team in general and I think it has helped us a ton these past couple of months. Everyone is making sure they are staying in shape and getting in the gym so when an announcement comes, we are ready,” Bucci said.

Head Coach Nate Lauter ’98 has been working hard to put a schedule together and has hope that there will be a season, even if it is only wrestling non-league opponents.

“It’s hard to say if there will definitely be a season, but I’m going to do whatever I can,” Lauter said. “Since we’re not going to participate in the Inter-Ac this year, it gives us the freedom to go out and schedule different events, outside of our league. Athletic Director Mr. Jim Stewart and Head of School Father Riley have been supportive in letting us explore this. I also have a bunch of events lined up, whether they are scholastic or club events, so there’s a lot of different things that are popping up.”

If the Friars were to have a full season, Lauter thinks it would be easy to avoid a breakout within the team. He emphasizes that a lot of the COVID-19 protocols that have been put in place are already being practiced every day in the wrestling room.

“I know it sounds like it’s very hard to wrestle with social distancing, but the reality is that wrestlers are already very conscious of skin issues, cleaning the mats, and spraying the room down. We’ve done this our whole lives and it’s something we’re accustomed to,” he said.

Lauter, a talented wrestler himself, went on to wrestle for Franklin and Marshall College after graduating from Malvern. He enjoys coaching for his alma mater and cherishes the relationships he builds with each student-athlete.

“We’re all really close. We do a lot together in season, out of season, and stuff that has nothing to do with wrestling whether it’s going on vacations or going out for team dinners,” Lauter noted. “I enjoy watching these kids succeed and if you look at some of the wrestlers, they’re involved in all kinds of other things. They’re MECO leaders, they’re involved in the arts programs, and are very good students. I think they’re all well rounded and hard-working kids.”

Following the 2019-2020 season, Lauter was awarded the National High School Wrestling Coach of the Year by Willie Saylor of Rofkin MatScouts. 

Junior Cole Deery credits Malvern’s success over the past couple of years to Lauter and the Malvern coaching staff, noting that they do a great job motivating the team to get better every day.

“I think it all starts with our coaches, especially Nate,” Deery said. “There is no better coaching staff that puts in the effort and cares so much about their team. They are constantly pushing us to work harder and it pays off.”

During his short time at Malvern, Lauter has built a culture of tenacity and unity. He believes that it begins with recruiting kids at a young age and developing them through the years.

“I think it’s a combination of finding the right people and the right families to be involved,” Lauter said. “It starts with creating a good culture and finding families that want to be a part of this. I think the biggest part of why we’ve gotten to where we are is because we do it as one.”

Despite being different ages, Malvern wrestlers create life-long bonds at practices and tournaments. Junior James Toal acknowledged that the team spends a lot of time together and tries not to make it always about wrestling.

“The whole team is really close from seniors to freshmen, even the middle school. We all do a bunch of stuff together inside and outside of school,” Toal said. “We play games before practice and make sure it’s not just wrestling, wrestling, wrestling, but also quality time spent together.”

The wrestling team is similar to a big family. At tournaments, they encourage each other from the sidelines and enjoy seeing their teammates succeed. Nick Feldman, a junior who is going into his third year of wrestling for Malvern, believes that constant support is key to the Friars’ success.

“When you see one kid win, we’re all going crazy, so then the next kid wants to win and keep the energy up,” Feldman said. “We always want to just keep that ball rolling and the momentum up because in tournaments, that helps us win a bunch of matches.”

Leveraging the momentum, the Friars went 6-0 in the Inter-Ac last season and placed 3rd at Ironman, a prestigious tournament in Ohio. In addition, they took 3rd at Beast of the East, 2nd at Powerade, and 3rd at National Preps, finishing as the 3rd ranked team in the country after being unranked to start the season.

In general, the pandemic has limited many aspects of high school, especially for freshmen who have yet to experience many of the unique events and traditions that make Malvern so great. This wrestling season will likely be the same. Freshman Shane Reilly has been wrestling for the Friars for two years and has been a key contributor to Malvern’s club team as well. As the season quickly approaches, Reilly has set multiple goals to help keep him on track during this confusing time.

“I definitely want to come out with at least 20 wins overall and I hope that our team can stay nationally ranked,” Reilly said. “We need to either stay where we are or climb up the rankings because I know we can beat some of these higher-ranked teams.”

Another freshman, Nik O’Neill, dominated countless opponents in middle school and is working hard to guarantee that if Malvern does have a season, he will be ready to continue his success. 

“I train for the season by going to practice every day, working hard, and doing workouts on my own. I also do a lot of conditioning because it’s really important to have stamina during matches at big tournaments,” O’Neill said.

In a COVID-19 season with lots of uncharted territories, Reilly and O’Neill will look to the upperclassman for guidance and leadership, an aspect that is crucial for the team’s success. Juniors Nick Feldman and Caden Rogers will likely step into these roles. They have both been two-year varsity wrestlers and are highly ranked in their respective weight classes. 

Over the years, Feldman and Rogers have proved to embrace the hard times and pain that is involved with a sport like wrestling. Similar to many wrestlers, they both agree that cutting weight is one of the most difficult aspects of the sport. 

“I’ve cut some serious weight before and that’s probably the worst part,” Rogers said. “But, it’s also rewarding once you win because it is the best feeling when you get your hand raised. You’re in the room every single day sweating and grinding so those thirty seconds when you get your hand raised makes it all worth it.”

Feldman, who is featured as this month’s athlete of the issue, commented that wrestling has not only made him more determined but also taught him the importance of perseverance. 

“The best part of wrestling may also be the most difficult part which is the grit and toughness it builds. When you’re wrestling, get tired, and don’t want to keep going, but you have to keep going, it teaches you to never shy away from an obstacle,” Feldman said.

The Friars, led by Lauter, will look to continue their success this season and climb the rankings while overcoming the difficulties of wrestling during a pandemic.