When Harry Takesian became the new Whittier Regional High head wrestling coach this year, he knew there would be plenty of changes to the program.
Despite the odds against him, Takesian has his team at a respectful mark.
"I just want to win and be successful," Takesian said. "I want the kids to succeed. I want the best for everyone, including the program."
Takesian took over as the Whittier head coach after head coach Rich Durkin resigned last year. He had led the program for 16 years. Takesian served as Durkin's assistant the last 10 years and also wrestled at Whittier during his high school days.
"When you have the opportunity to come back to the school that you wrestled at and be the head coach, it doesn't get any more satisfying," he said.
The team also has had to deal with the loss of several wrestlers from last year's group. Whittier teamed up with Haverhill High to form a co-op team a season ago. But with Haverhill bringing back its wrestling team this season under head coach Brian Urquhart, the Whittier program ends up being affected. Last year, Parris Williams and Tyler Bard were two main cogs of a co-op squad which had 11 wins and 12 losses. They are now part of the revitalized Haverhill High program.
"When you lose a kid as talented as Parris Williams, it's certainly going to be a hit to the lineup," Takesian said. "We've lost three-quarters of our varsity lineup last year, so our lineup is 75 percent of kids that have never wrestled at a varsity level."
The vacancies left by the Haverhill High wrestlers require Whittier to rely on inexperienced members of the team. Despite the youth of the group, Takesian still has the Wildcats hovering around the .500 mark with an 8-7 record as of Friday. The team has leaned heavily on its seniors, including Travis Yell and Shane Surette.
"I've really had to step up and help demonstrate some of the moves to the newer kids," Yell said.
Yell wrestles at 132 pounds and Takesian calls him the most talented wrestler on the team. Yell has an 18-4 record on the year as of Friday.
"He works hard," Takesian said. "When he leaves practice, he goes up to some of the wrestling clubs and will wrestle there a couple of hours each night. He does everything he can to improve."
The Whittier wrestlers said Takesian's style of coaching is quite different from the style used by Durkin. He has focused on getting them into better physical shape, working on conditioning and improving their stamina at both the beginning and end of practice.
"He's working us a lot harder than we're used to," Surette said. "We've done a lot more technical things with him and our assistant coaches."
Surette, who was a star quarterback for the Wildcats in the fall, has a 15-8 record. He wrestles at 152 pounds.
While the team is rebuilding the program, Takesian has his eyes set on the future.
"We've been competitive over the last couple years," Takesian said. "I want to take our team to the next level. Instead of just being competitive, I want to be that team that stands out. Over the next couple of years, I think people are going to be talking about Whittier wrestling."
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