Lazor continues dominance with Chestnut Ridge program

While it has become expected that the Chestnut Ridge wrestling program will turn in great years under coach Greg Lazor, this year might have been his best coaching performance.

Wrestling without Justin McCoy, the program’s career leader in wins, and with four freshmen in the starting lineup, the Lions went 16-1 and finished third at the PIAA Duals for the second straight year.

The PIAA Duals streak, of course, isn’t Ridge’s most impressive run under Lazor. The Lions have won eight straight District 5 team titles at the individual tournament, seven straight District 5 Duals titles and five straight Thomas Chevrolet Tournament championships.

Personally, he’s been named the District 5 Coach of the Year eight consecutive years.

For his efforts this season, he’s been named the 2018-19 Altoona Mirror Coach of the Year for the third straight year and the sixth time in the last eight years. It’s the most Coach of the Year honors in the history of the award, breaking a tie of five with former Bedford coach Brian Creps and Jan Clark (Tussey Mountain and Central).

Huntingdon coach Jon Mykut and Glendale coach Billy Dubler, who has his program on the rise, also drew consideration.

“I feel great,” Lazor said. “That’s a big viewing area, a lot of teams are involved, so a lot of coaches are available for that honor. For me to get that, it just shows what a lot of our boys have been doing, and what our assistance coaches have been doing. Our community and everybody else has built this program to be something special.”

The honor, of course, is a bittersweet one for Lazor and the community. He stepped down as head coach after the state tournament to spend more time with his three children, telling the team on March 14 and going public with his decision on Monday. Lazor has taken over as the high school softball coach.

“I’m happy with a lot of the things we accomplished,” Lazor said. “I’m most thankful and satisfied with the idea that we turned out some really good men – not just in wrestling but after wrestling. We worked on creating a family atmosphere in this place, and it really caught hold.

“Am I satisfied with the results and everything we did? Absolutely. The boys worked hard. They earned everything they got. We never won the state title, of course, but I think we accomplished a lot.”

The 43-year-old Lazor, who served two years as an assistant under Jim Clark, went 203-48 in 11 seasons as the head coach at Ridge. Before he came to Ridge, Lazor coached seven seasons at West Stokes High School in North Carolina, guiding that program to top four in the state four times.

Lazor, the 2012-13 PIAA Coach of the Year, went out on a high note, coaching 170-pounder Jared McGill to a state title and fourth state medal. McGill has been named the Mirror’s Co-Wrestler of the Year. Lazor also coached McCoy to a state title in 2017 and to state runner-up finish in 2018. Lazor also coached Josh McDannell to a silver medal in 2008.

“I hate to see him leave,” Ridge athletic director Mark Clevenger said. “He has been the driving force behind our upward spiral in wrestling, especially in the success our program has enjoyed in recent years. Greg is a highly motivated person, a driven coach who always has his athlete’s best interests at heart. Greg certainly was torn between his own family and his wrestling family and a sport he dearly loves.

“Greg took the reins of an already well established program, elevated it to the upper levels and put Chestnut Ridge wrestling on the map. He has been the leader of our total program.”

After some early battles with Bedford and Berlin Brothersvalley, the Lions have dominated District 5 under Lazor. Ridge has become a state power in recent years.

“It’s a small district, but it has a great tradition in wrestling with some teams of the past like North Star and Bedford,” Lazor said. “To come in there and show some dominance over the last couple of years, it’s nice to put our name on that top shelf and put our name on that target to where people want to be more like us. I’m absolutely proud of what we’ve done in our district.”

The Lions took a 12-0 record into the PIAA Duals and reached the semifinals before suffering their only loss to Southern Columbia, 34-31. They beat Brookville, 46-18, in the third-place match. It was the first win over Brookville under Lazor.

“I think we wrestled Southern Columbia as tough as anyone has all year,” Lazor said. “It came down to the last match. Then we handled everyone else pretty well.”

Whoever is coaching Ridge next season – Lazor is hoping one of his assistants will get the job – has big shoes to fill. The Lions, though, have the potential, with state placewinners Kai Burkett and Nathan Holderbaum and state qualifier Duane Knisely returning, to have another big season.

“I think they have those possibilities,” Lazor said. “We’re going to have to grow, so we’ve already started in the weight room trying to get bigger in some spots. If they grow and with the addition of the younger guys coming in, they can be a team to reckon with.”

“Greg has drawn multiple highly qualified wrestling coaches and volunteers to our program to serve on our coaching staff from elementary up through varsity,” Clevenger said. “I’m sure the success, the pride, the high expectations and the winning tradition he has established will carry on with his successor.

In addition to being the softball coach, Lazor will remain involved in the wrestling program, mostly at the elementary level.

“Ideally, what I want to do is coach my son (Grant) and his friends coming up through,” Lazor said, “and try to get a good, little elementary feeder program to the school. I want to keep Chestnut Ridge on the top of the list.”