Rebuilding tough at Norristown

Norristown's Rashon Lusane, defeating Cheltenham's Connor Barton at 182 pounds during the Eagles' team victory Wednesday night, won a district title last season. The sophomore is one of Norristown's top returning wrestlers and has his eye on states.
Norristown's Rashon Lusane, defeating Cheltenham's Connor Barton at 182 pounds during the Eagles' team victory Wednesday night, won a district title last season. The sophomore is one of Norristown's top returning wrestlers and has his eye on states. (                              ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 13, 2013

Norristown wrestling coach Mark Harner was talking to a coach at rival Plymouth Whitemarsh recently. They were arguing about John Staudenmayer, a Colonials wrestler who won a state championship in 2011.

"At least I had a state champion," the coach said about Staudenmayer, whose brother Justin placed seventh at states last season.

"No you didn't," replied Harner, a 10-year coach. "Mr. and Mrs. Staudenmayer had a state champion."

Harner's point underlies an issue that he said will cause the Eagles to struggle to beat any team this season. Because of injuries, ineligibility, and a lack of interest, Norristown is barely managing to fill its roster.

Only 18 students showed up to try out for the 14 spots, a far cry from the 40 to 50 prospective athletes who try out for better teams in the area. Harner said the roster will be down to 16 this week because two starters have been declared academically ineligible.

Harner said the key to committing more students to wrestling is their parents, and that is more difficult at Norristown, a mostly football and basketball community.

"It's the bottom line with wrestling," Harner said. "I've pretty much yet to see a kid excel whose parents aren't heavily involved."

Not only that, but the Eagles also will be dealing with the graduation of Brett Harner (the coach's son) and Zach Fuentes, two wrestlers who reached the state finals last season. Mark Harner said a freshman or sophomore will start in at least six of his weight classes.

"We have a lot of holes," Harner said. "We're very inexperienced in a number of ways."

But Harner also described the outlook for this season as a somewhat typical one for Norristown (15-3, 7-0 Suburban One American last season), which has produced some of the best wrestlers in the area recently despite not always having success as a team.

Last season, Brett Harner (42-4), Fuentes (46-5), Rashon Lusane (30-13), and Mike Springer (35-5) won district titles, giving Norristown the second-most district champions among teams in District 1.

However, the Eagles received the No. 8 seed in the district's duals tournament and were knocked out in the first round.

Harner said he rarely has more than a handful of youngsters who are seriously committed to wrestling. As a result, some Eagles have found success individually, but the team has suffered.

"Even when we beat a good team, it's 39-30," Harner said.

One Eagle who has wrestled for much of his life is Lusane, a sophomore who got into the sport in the second grade. He said he was encouraged to compete by his father, Rodchine Lusane, an assistant coach for Harner.

But even Rashon Lusane, who has been wrestling for eight years, said it's not his favorite sport. He played four games as the starting quarterback this season for the Eagles football team.

"I have love for the game of football," Lusane said. "My dad got me into wrestling at Norristown. I had to be good at it, so I stuck with it."

Harner said that he expects Lusane to compete at around 170 pounds this season and that he could win a state championship before he graduates. Lusane qualified for states last season but didn't place.

This season, Lusane wants to make it to states, win two matches, and place.

"I set goals for myself at everything I do," Lusane said. "Last year, I made it to states and I made the mistake of being satisfied."


rallysports@phillynews.com

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