Lehigh University head coach Pat Santoro runs a clinic for local grapplers
It isn't often that a National Coach of the Year pays a visit to Honesdale, but this week local grapplers experienced a rare treat when Pat Santoro dropped by to give a one-day clinic.
Santoro has been the head wrestling coach at Lehigh University for a decade now. And, over the course of those 10 years, he's re-established the Mountain Hawks as one of the country's elite programs.
For the 2017-18 season, Lehigh powered its way to an overall record of 12-3 and a dazzling 7-1 mark in the always-rugged Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association.
The Mountain Hawks also claimed their eye-popping 35th EIWA tournament title, piling up 164 points to easily outdistance runner-up Cornell (146 pts).
Santoro was named EIWA Coach of the Year for the fourth time and eventually earned his first-ever national honor as well.
On Tuesday, he spent several hours with members of the Northeast Vipers Wrestling Club. The group is based in Honesdale, but also features grapplers from all over the area.
“I'm very happy to be here,” Coach Santoro said during a break in the action. “The kids have been great. I think it's been a very good experience for them and for me, too.”
The Northeast Vipers were founded back in '04 as an offseason program to complement the scholastic experience.
Honesdale coaches Ryan Chulada and Joe Arnone collaborated in writing the group's mission statement.
“We want the Vipers to be an offseason wrestling club dedicated to sound, high level fundamentals in Freestyle, Greco-Roman and Folkstyle wrestling,” they wrote when setting up their social media sites.
Over the course of the intervening years, the Vipers have gone from being primarily a Honesdale affair to including wrestlers from all over the region.
This summer, for example, the group includes student-athletes from Wallenpaupack Area, Western Wayne, Valley View and Delaware Valley.
Wrestlers work out at Honesdale once or twice a week, honing their skills and expanding their horizons in preparation for Greco-Roman, freestyle or folk style tournaments.
Hornet coaches also work hard to bring in expert clinicians. In years past, local wrestlers have had the opportunity to learn from the likes of Mitch Clark, John Stutzman and Scott Moore.
Dozens of local grapplers gathered in the Honesdale wrestling room on Tuesday to learn from one of the NCAA's very best.
Pat Santoro enjoyed a brilliant mat career in high school and collegiately. He started wrestling in the first grade, but also enjoyed playing other sports.
He made a name for himself scholastically at Bethlehem Catholic before heading off to become a legend at Pitt.
Santoro was a four-time All American and two-time team captain, finishing up his NCAA career with an eye-popping record of 167-13 (92.7 win percentage).
From there, he went on to become a four-time member of the US National Team. He participated in three separate Olympic Trials and was an alternate for the 1996 Winter Games.
Needless to say, with this amazing resume, the Vipers hung on every word that issued forth from Coach Santoro's lips.
“You never know what to expect when you give a clinic somewhere for the first time,” he said. “But, these kids are awesome. They paid attention and learned a lot.”
Coach Santoro emphasized fundamentals at this particular clinic. He focused on hand-fighting techniques and transitions into wrestling from the bottom position.
“It's been awesome having him here,” Coach Chulada said. “You don't get someone of Pat Santoro's caliber all that often and the kids were just eating it up.”
Over & Out
The Vipers actually have a direct connection to Lehigh as former Paupack standout Chase Gallik is heading into his senior year as a Mountain Hawk.
“Chase is absolutely one of my favorite wrestlers to watch,” Coach Santoro said. “He lets it fly 100 percent every time he steps out there on the mat.”
Gallik spent several years as a member of the Vipers before closing out his high school career and heading out t o Lehigh.
Coach Santoro is optimistic about his team's chances this coming year.
“We have just about everybody back,” he said. “So, I'm pretty excited to see what we can do.”
As for Tuesday's clinic, Coach Santoro was all smiles when asked about his experience.
“It all starts here,” he said. “This is where it all begins. You never know. Maybe someday one of these kids will be wrestling for me at Lehigh.”