After a three year run that was the best in school history, Downingtown East entered the 2015-16 season a bit under the radar.
Sure, star senior Wade Cummings (126 pounds) was still around, but two state qualifiers graduated and the Cougars’ window seemed all but closed.
Instead, East finished third in the Class AAA District 1 Duals, sending them to the state duals tournament for the second time in four years. For the second straight season, three Cougars reached Hershey for the PIAA tournament and Cummings became the school’s first two-time state medalist.
For those reasons, East coach Joe Horvath is the 2016 Daily Local News’ wrestling Coach of the Year.
“I was pleasantly surprised and proud of this team and its accomplishments,” Horvath said. “Not much of the local public or our region, District 1, expected too much from us, but our younger guys and returning vets stepped up and made a pretty good team. I couldn’t be more proud of that.”
When Cummings arrived on campus, East had its first big-name prospect. But instead of a one-man show, the team followed and this year’s senior class was undefeated in Ches-Mont National Division dual meets.
In the first 10 years of East’s existence, four wrestlers qualified for states. In the past four years, six Cougars have reached Hershey. Cummings led the way, living up to the hype with a fourth and fifth-place finish at states and 181 career victories.
“That scenario is probably what I’m most proud of,” Horvath said. “We had our first blue-chip wrestler, and all the pieces were able to come together. We had a cast of kids with limited knowledge and limited experience and were able to make something of it. Wade Cummings came in with accomplishments and he was surrounded by kids that weren’t at the same level. He knew if we wanted to do something as a team, he’d have to work with the team, too, and I couldn’t be more proud and more thankful for him and for our coaching staff.”
Horvath is assisted by Darrin Cummings, Billy Heemer and Robbie Fitzgerald. East topped Upper Darby for third in the district this winter, and won the Ches-Mont Championships and District 1 Central team titles.
Once again, major talent is exiting the program due to graduation, but the drop-off may not be as dramatic as some expect with a core of Lukas Richie (106), Connor Birzes (132), Brett Horne (120), Brendan McGinley (285) and Josh Wileczek (195).
“We have one of the most successful programs in the high school, and also one of the smallest,” Horvath said. “The kids have bought in and stayed and the goals and experience have grown as well.”