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Pallotti wrestling hopes to rise under young coach

After three seasons as an assistant wrestling coach at Wyoming Seminary, a powerhouse program in Kingston, Pa., Andrew Lacroix became a head coach for the first time when he took over at St. Vincent Pallotti High before the 2012-13 season.

A former standout wrestling at his New Hampshire high school, Lacroix brought lofty goals to the Laurel private school.

"This is an exciting time for the Pallotti program, as I have very high goals for us and where we are ultimately headed. In short, my goals are to consistently vie for or (ideally) win the MIAA championship, consistently produce prep national All-Americans, and to place all of our student-athletes into schools that are the best fit for them," he wrote on a Maryland wrestling website last year.

Any possible title this season will have to come at the B level of the MIAA, because the Panthers have dropped down after competing in the A Conference last season.

"We should do pretty well in the B conference," said standout junior Justin Chenault, a Laurel resident who added that the B Conference is a better fit. "We are filling more of the places (at each weight) but we are still at a rebuilding stage."

Pallotti took part in the Charger Classic at Lackey High the weekend of Dec. 13-14 and Chenault was fourth at 126 pounds.

While the Panthers are not at the national level like Wyoming Seminary, Lacroix did help bring a winning touch to the Panthers after he took over for long-time mentor Tom Owens. The former Division III standout at Roger Williams in Rhode Island had several wrestlers perform well in 2012-13.

Returnee and co-captain Antonio Santoro, a heavyweight, won a title in the MIAA last season and took second in the state. Chenault was second in the MIAA and fifth in the Maryland Independent state event, Yamil Cristobal-Perez was second in the MIAA and fourth in the state and Griffin McWilliams was fifth in the MIAA and eighth in the state.

But the Panthers have to replace graduated seniors Cristobal and McWilliams, the latter of whom is a student at Salisbury University, according to Chenault. Santoro was fourth at the Charger Classic and Pallotti's Michael Wilkerson was fifth at 182.

Lacroix, who also teaches English at Pallotti, said prior to the Charger Classic that he must replace the loss of four seniors from last year's squad. Another one of them is Cristobal-Perez, who is from Fort Meade and is now a freshman on the team at Washington-Jefferson in Pennsylvania.

With a roster of about 20 wrestlers, Lacroix has big goals for this season.

"We are trying to win the B Conference in the MIAA," said Lacroix, a three-time state champion in New Hampshire and a Division III All-American at Roger Williams.

Another one of his goals is to have six wrestlers place among the best this season in the MIAA.

In late November the Panthers took part in the Northeast Duals in New York and then were in Philadelphia for the Germantown Academy wrestling tournament earlier this month.

Pallotti will take part Dec. 27-28 in the Mount Mat Madness event at UMBC.

Lacroix was an assistant at Wyoming Seminary under head coach Scott Green and he helped train nationally-ranked wrestlers as the team took part in major events.

Lacroix said that Owens, the previous Pallotti coach, helped him make the transition as a first-year head coach during the 2012-13 season. Owens continues to show up at practice and Lacroix said he can always go to Owens with questions that he may have about the program.

NOTES: The Pallotti assistant coach is Robert Covington, a wrestler in high school and a track standout in college in Florida … Cristobal-Perez, the 2013 Pallotti graduate, is part of a strong wrestling program at Washington-Jefferson. The team was ninth of 11 teams on Dec. 7 at the RIT Invitational. Washington-Jefferson will compete Jan. 4 at the Waynesburg Invitational. The head coach is Tommy Prairie, a graduate of Blair Academy in New Jersey and a former wrestler at Williams College in Massachusetts. Now in his third year, Prairie has placed three of his wrestlers in the national tournament at the Division III level while at Washington-Jefferson.

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