ASTON >> While a teammate was involved in a bout Wednesday night, Hunter Catka could be seen doing pull-ups off to the side of the mats.
While it could have been misinterpreted for pre-match preparation, the Sun Valley sophomore’s bout had finished four matches earlier. Catka was not scheduled for another, but rather was getting in more strength and conditioning work. That is something his teammates and coaches have come to expect from the tenacious wrestler.
In the Vanguards’ 42-27 Ches-Mont League loss to Great Valley, Catka made quick work of his opponent with a pin in the second period. That moved his record to 14-1 on the season, but more impressively, 11 of his decisions have come by pin.
His imposing size in the 220-pound weight class is enough to make him stand out, but he fights with a simple mantra that he learned from his head coach, Tom Ellis.
“My coach always told me to work harder than everyone else,” Catka said.
Ellis could not have been more elated with Catka’s 34-7 freshman season, which culminated with a trip to the state tournament. With all of the accolades and success from a year ago, Catka could’ve become complacent and succumbed to a sophomore slump. But Ellis has seen an invigorated prowess from his second-year wrestler.
“Hunter is on a different level than anyone else, especially in the way he prepares,” Ellis said. “All the matches he’s putting together are all majors, pins or technical falls. Everything is bonus points with him. He has a motor that doesn’t stop.”
Having one wrestler with Catka’s style is a plus but having another Catka has helped Ellis’ team immensely. Hunter’s brother, Ryan, has started his freshman campaign with a 10-5 record which includes five pins. Despite his loss to Great Valley’s Ethan Seeley in the 182-pound match by pin, Ryan has helped bring energy with his older brother and it has trickled down to the rest of the team.
While Ryan may not yet boast Hunter’s power and imposing size, he makes up for it with technique and attention to detail. He already understands so much for a young wrestler and he attributes his success to elder sibling.
“He’s been a great brother to me through the years,” Catka said. “He’s been helping me push and (accomplish) what I’ve been hoping.”
A major aspect behind Sun Valley’s (7-1, 2-1) strong start has been due to the leadership and mindset the Catka brothers have brought into the Vanguards program. They’ve helped build a culture that started with their work with former Haverford School head coach Greg Hagel, a former standout at Blair Academy (N.J.) and Northwestern where he compiled a 38-34 overall record in three seasons. Hagel spent one year overseeing the Fords but has moved into providing individual and team instruction, including the Vanguards.
Hagel was picked as a member of the coaching staff for the cadet duels for Team Pennsylvania in the Freestyle and Greco National Championships this past summer. Hunter qualified for the cadet team and Hagel brought Ryan along to train with the team. The former head of the Fords has seen the maturation in the brothers from their time with the team.
“Hunter placed in both styles out there and Ryan was right there with us training,” Hagel said. “The expectations are set high and they’ve risen to the occasion every time.”
Hunter was named an All-American in both styles and the experience Ryan earned was indispensable, particularly on a team Hagel said ranged “from Olympic gold medalists to Fargo national champs.” Building and growing together has paid dividends for the pair and Hagel noted it has benefitted Ellis’ team as a whole.
“I think both of the boys have an extreme work ethic that is unmatched,” Hagel said. “They’ve really bought into the philosophy of grinding really hard and learning good position. They’re perfectionists and as you can see on the mat they take every position seriously. They work to improve at every point.”
Hunter and Ryan both had high praise for Hagel and what he’s been able to teach them in the past few months.
“He’s been amazing teaching me how to change my maneuvers on everything, both on and off the mat,” Hunter said. “He’s in my corner teaching me. I give all of the credit to him and he’s helped me so much.”
“Before matches, he helps us warm up and after he cools us down,” Ryan said. “He’s been coming in and helping the team. They’re definitely taking from him.”
Ellis has relished the advice and guidance Hagel has brought this group and has seen how Hagel’s work has improved areas that may have not been initially covered in practices and match preparation.
“Greg is a great influence and he has a pedigree that is second to none,” Ellis said. “He’s been nothing but good for our guys and their technique. He’s been able to clean some things up, even things we take for granted.”
One of those things now would be seeing Hunter do pull-ups after a match, a mentality Hagel has seen rub off on Ryan and others.
“As you can see after the match, they’re out there doing pull-ups even post-match,” Hagel said. “They have a college mentality in a high school environment.”
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