Dallastown wrestling enters new era with first-year coach, young team

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch

Dallastown wrestling has long been one of the premier programs in the York-Adams League. The Wildcats have piled up league titles, been a consistent presence at district championships and made noise at state tournaments. 

The 2022-23 season, however, will be a new chapter in the story. The Wildcats have a new head coach and a slew of departed seniors to replace. After going 18-3 overall and 6-0 in York-Adams Division I last winter, they know continued success won’t be simple.

New head coach Dan Thoman replaces Dave Gable, who coached Dallastown for 25 seasons across two stints and won 339 matches in a storied career. Gable stepped down in the spring but is still around the school, with part of his focus shifting toward helping get a girls’ wrestling program off the ground. Thoman competed for Dallastown under Gable from 1997-2001.

Dallastown wrestling coach Dan Thoman at the high school winter sports media day 1 in York on Nov. 9, 2022.

The Wildcats graduated eight members of the 2021-22 team, and only three seniors are listed on this year’s online roster. All of those graduates were a part of Dallastown’s lineup, meaning the majority of the 13 weight classes are works in progress.

“It’s great that we had so many guys that were able to participate in their senior year and really made a great mark on the sport at our school,” Thoman said last month. “And now we’ve just got a lot of opportunities for our younger guys to step up and see what they can do.”

Dallastown’s season began at the Solanco Mule Classic last Friday and Saturday, where the Wildcats finished 12th out of 25 competing teams. Junior Isaiah Feeney captured an individual title in the 172-pound class, while senior Damien Key (127) and sophomore Evan Baldwin (160) placed fifth in their brackets.

Dallastown wrestling's Isaiah Feeney at the high school winter sports media day 1 in York on Nov. 9, 2022.
Dallastown wrestling's Damian Key at the high school winter sports media day 1 in York on Nov. 9, 2022.

The season itself is densely packed, with the playoffs already less than two months away. But in wrestling as much as any other sport, year-round preparation is vital and days off are scarce. And this offseason of transition made it especially important to build camaraderie and confidence.

“You don’t win matches in January. You win them in June,” Thoman said. “When you could have been kicking back and relaxing, instead you were in the weight room or you were in the wrestling room getting better. We’ve talked about that all year, and we put in a lot of work this summer.”

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Feeney is one of several underclassmen taking on leadership roles for the Wildcats. He said his top priority for the team was “becoming a family first” in the summer, and that he wants to set a strong example for his younger teammates. Feeney believes this group has the talent to start a new era off right.

“I’m excited to see what’s gonna happen this year,” Feeney said. “Our team’s pretty young, but I think if we just put in the work and have the heart to win, we’re absolutely gonna be able to compete.”

Dallastown's Isaiah Feeney is tossed by Solanco's Robert Castangna in their 189-pound bout during a District 3 Class 3-A first-round match at Dallastown Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. Castangna won 4-1 but Dallastown went on to win the match 41-18. Bill Kalina photo

Dallastown still has lofty goals as a team, as do its individual competitors. Thoman, however,  knows those goals will have to be achieved one step and one sequence at a time. Those who simply chase clouds, he says, often end up in their own way.

“I do have goals, but I try not to think about it that much,” Key said. “I know I put the work in, in the offseason and during the season, so I try to believe that whatever my goals are, I’ll achieve them.”

A pivotal test awaits on Dec. 15, when the Wildcats visit Red Lion. The Lions finished fifth in the division last year but return plenty of talent, as evidenced by their third-place finish at Solanco over the weekend. Division I appears wide open, and everyone is gunning for the Wildcats. That only makes a strong start that much more important.

“Obviously we graduated a lot of folks. I know Spring Grove graduated a lot as well,” Thoman said. “And I know Central York is bringing back a number of state qualifiers, and Red Lion’s got a solid lineup this year. South Western is always tough … and you can never count New Oxford out of anything. 

“It’s really just gonna come down to who’s gonna put the work in and who’s gonna go do battle when the time comes.”