An audible groan broke out in the York College wrestling room when the first few bars of "Baby It’s Cold Outside" came over the speakers during a recent practice.
The wrestlers were objecting to the deviation from their preferred audio selections.
Head coach Duane Bastress then emerged from an equipment room. Looking more the part of an older brother than a seasoned mentor, the smile on his face confirmed his pleasure that his musical choice garnered the tormented reaction he desired.
Shrugging off the objections, this wrestling family quickly snapped to work on Bastress’ command, giving the reverence and attention due to their leader.
“Our team, in the past, has been more individualized,” said senior standout Ryan Flynn. “This year it’s been all together. We’re together as team, doesn’t matter who you are, you’re pushing the next guy to get him better. Everyone is cheering each other on, no matter whether you win or lose, you get up and cheer your team on. Our work ethic this year has been awesome.”
It’s that family-like sense of togetherness that has the Spartans primed to achieve some lofty goals this season.
“Our goals are to keep above a 3.0 GPA,” Bastress said. “Another one to send at least five guys to the national tournament, beat Messiah, they’re a big rival for us, and we want to break a few wins records. Dual meets, it would be nice to get 15 to 20 dual-meet wins, have a shot at the regional team trophy and hopefully bring home some hardware in March.”
The Spartans currently sport a 4-0 dual-meet record and are ranked 18th in NCAA Division III. York also benefits from a pair of nationally ranked wrestlers leading its roster.
If York cracks the 20-win milestone, it would mark the seventh time the program has accomplished the feat. The school record for wins in a season is 25, coming during a 2011-2012 campaign that saw the Spartans go 25-4.
In the Spartans’ family dynamic, Flynn plays a “consummate standout eldest child" role. As the lone senior to see significant mat action, Flynn is the ultimate conduit between coach and the team’s younger talents.
Flynn sports a 17-2 overall record on the season, leads York in victories and is currently ranked third in NCAA Division III at 133 pounds by Intermat.
With a career record of 108-34, Flynn sits six wins shy of tying the school record for career victories. That mark is currently held by York College assistant wrestling coach Kyle Flickinger.
“It’s obviously an awesome accomplishment,” Flynn said. “I get to beat my coach, which is always cool to rub it in his face. But really it’s all about getting to the next level, and you’ve got to put the blinders on with that kind of stuff. The goal is to get on the national podium and to get the team up there, too. As a team we want top five in the nation, which we definitely have the potential to do.”
Flynn already holds the second-best single-season wins total, set during his sophomore season when he went 39-11. Only Bastress has more wins in a season at 40.
Last season, Flynn won his second straight Mideast Regional championship at 133 pounds and qualified for the national championships for the second straight year. He went 1-2 at nationals with an opening-round victory before a quarterfinals loss and subsequent loss in his first consolation bout.
“Great conditioning, always stays in in great position,” Bastress said of Flynn’s strengths as a wrestler. “Very coachable, very humble. Even with all the success, he’s still a very humble kid. Heck of a role model for the guys to look up to. Does everything the right way on and off the mat, so he’s a great role model, especially for the younger guys.”
Flynn is also an example in the classroom for his fellow Spartans. He's a three-time scholar all-American.
Learning from the best: Bastress, not far removed from his own incredibly successful college wrestling career, provides a valuable element of leadership.
His youthfulness gives him the ability to relate and helps earn the trust of his wrestlers; while his resume provides an undeniable aspect of legitimacy to his teachings.
Bastress, a two-time national champion under previous coach Tom Kessler, had a career record of 97-6 in Green and White. His 2006 senior season saw him go 40-0 while defending his NCAA title. He also ended his Spartan career with a 65-match winning streak.
He is the only two-time national champion in Spartans history and owns two of the school's three individual national titles.
“My coaches have been there,” Flynn said. “They’ve seen it, they’ve been through it and it’s good to get that experience.”
Solid future: The family atmosphere being forged now appears to be in good hands going forward.
Bastress is in the enviable position where his only loss of significance to graduation is the departure of Flynn. This season, the Spartans have two juniors, six sophomores and one freshman who start on a regular basis.
The coach sees the youthful depth as a strength of this Spartan squad. Leading the Spartans’ youth movement is a pair of successful sophomores in Greg Warner and Dylan Nuttall.
Warner, the No. 4-ranked wrestler in D-III at 141 pounds, is off to a 14-6 start, including a tournament victory at the Roger Williams Invitational. He is also looking for his second straight season of All-America status, having earned the nod in his freshman year.
Nuttall has cemented his place as York's 125-pounder, compiling a 15-5 record and capturing a third-place finish at the Kings College Monarch Invitational.
John Shorter, a junior at 197 pounds, is 7-4 on the season with a first-place finish at the Roger Williams event on his resume. Shorter will no doubt serve in the experienced leader role next year when he continues to improve on a 62-30 career record.
“I say we’re young so it’s kind of a scary, scary thing,” Bastress said. “Scary to think about what we could be in a couple of years; and it’s also scary because we are so young and we’re trying to balance our freshmen and sophomores, making sure they are staying focused and adapting to college wrestling. Overall it’s a good thing, guys are buying in from top to bottom.”
In three weight classes (165, 174 and 184), the Spartans already have at least two wrestlers who have picked up at least six victories this season, and there's only one upperclassman among that group.
Freshman heavyweight Stefanos Karpontinis is among the team leaders with three pins to go along with his 8-5 record.
York closes the first-semester slate with a trip to Waynesburg University to participate in a quad meet Saturday, taking on Waynesburg, Baldwin Wallace and Apprentice School.
After that, the Spartans have a winter break before returning to action Jan. 13 at Lycoming College’s Budd Whitehill Duals.
Reach Elijah Armold at firstname.lastname@example.org.