When Smyrna High opens the wrestling season Friday at the Ray Oliver Invitational at McDonogh School in Maryland, it will be the start of a new era for the program.
Not only will the Eagles be without three of last year’s state champions, including the state tournament’s most outstanding wrestler, Smyrna will hit the mat with a new head coach, Aaron Harris, the former Dover High wrestling coach and athletic director. Kurt Howell stepped down as the coach after 14 seasons with the Eagles.
There will be some familiar faces looking to make their mark this year, including returning state qualifiers Jaxson Al-Chokhachy, Nick Natarcola, JT Davis and Joey Natarcola. However, after finishing 11-4 as a team last season, this year’s experienced returning core will be even more formidable with the addition of two transfers in Anthony Glass and Amir Pierce, who were both state qualifiers last season while at Dover.
With a new head coach, returning wrestlers taking on more prominent roles and newcomers finding their way, the preseason is especially important for the Eagles.
“This preseason is dedicated to re-emphasizing the basics and improving speed, agility and endurance,” said Harris. “We are also working to instill discipline and a blue-collar type of work ethic.”
Recently, Harris had a chance to see his team in action when the school hosted a play-day.
“The scrimmage went well. There were approximately 100 kids from five different schools,” Harris said. “It was great to see the amount of hard work taking place from all involved.”
The loss of senior leaders like Greg Baum, Josh Dailey, Dakota Kerr and Tony Wuest, along with the other changes within the team would be a whirlwind for most programs to deal with.
However, Smyrna hasn’t been one of the state’s best for so long for no reason. Staying on top means adjusting, year-to-year, replenishing talent and keeping the winning edge that’s needed throughout the long and grueling season.
In Smyrna’s case, yes, there is change; however, they can lean on not only the obvious talent on this year’s roster, but the returning core ready to take the next step as leaders like others have before them.
They also have the experience of Harris, who has been through plenty of battles himself leading Dover in the very tough Henlopen Conference.
As transitions go, Harris says things are going well not only for the wrestlers, but himself as well.
“The wrestlers are doing a great job buying into all of the changes,” Harris said. “The wrestling community has also been very welcoming and supportive.”
When it comes to pressure, Harris is no stranger, and he’s planning to take this next challenge the same as others, while hopefully ingraining the same approach into the Smyrna program.
“I’ve faced many difficult obstacles in life,” Harris said. “Rather than be nervous, I’ve learned to attack things head-on with the same tenacity that I attack a double leg with.”