A team full of confidence and a legendary coach’s swan song.
Despite the turmoil of the previous season, marred by teacher strikes and the short lived (but only delayed) resignation by Coach Lineman, the 1977 team entered the season beaming with confidence. This swagger was justified.
For this overview, we have the input from stars Matt Smargiasso and Dan Morrison and Robyn (Lineman) Weaver, a mat maid on this team.
Trickling in the under-current was the knowledge of this being Neal Lineman’s last season. However, Coach did not make this a rallying cry as he kept the team focused on their own needs to improve and win. In fact, Matt claims he really can’t remember knowing of the impending retirement.
The Raiders had a solid foundation of talent with former Section champs returning in Tom Collins, Dave Krumpak, Dan Morrison and John Urmson. Joining them were two-time District champ Jerry Diehl and defending State champ Matt Smargiasso.
To go with core group was a wrestling room of over 100 wrestlers. The eliminations for this team reached a peak of intensity and are legendary in Reynolds history. Matt has told me several times that he feared not making the varsity lineup because his eliminations were very close with Curt Weaver and John Ohle (and remember, he was a returning state champ!).
Dan reflects on how difficult it was to beat friends in the wrestle-offs knowing they wouldn’t get a chance to start. I researched the old scorebooks to learn that some really good wrestlers eventually lost varsity spots, especially from 145 lbs. and higher. Without exaggeration, the internal competition was better than a District tournament.
And did they win! In one of the more dominating seasons, the Raiders bowled down their opponents with a total point difference of 693-85 (an average match score of 49 ½ - 6)! Eleven of their opponents score 6 or less points. Only the rising Erie Prep team gave a real threat to beating the ’77 team. (One match of interest against Prep was our Tom Anthony tied Kevin Darkus. Darkus eventually won two AAA titles and was an NCAA champion).
For the third straight year, Reynolds won sections with 10 champs (out of 12) including Jerry Diehl, Tom Collins, Matt Smargiasso, John Urmson, Tom Anthony, Dennis Gibb, Bill Arbanas, Tim Morrison, Dino Tofani and Bob Esmond.
The Raiders continued their success at districts with five champions: Jerry Diehl, Matt Smargiasso, Dan Morrison, Dennis Gibb and John Urmson. Smargiasso went on to win regions and finished 3rd in the States. Morrison really shined in his senior year and made it to the State Finals or a 2nd place finish. Dan continued to improve in college and was ranked in the top three in the NCAA D1 level his senior year.
There was such an abundance of talent in the practice room that many went on to have great careers. 14 wrestlers became section champs before they graduated. Four of them won district titles and two won regions. The underclassmen also had four future state medal winners including champ, Kevin Klasic, runner-up Tim Morrison and 3rd place medals for Dennis Gibb and Bill Arbanas.
Like so many teams before, the '77 team created an amazing legacy of accomplishments! The '77 team finished a very respectable 7th place in the PIAA but it's real strength would have shown brightly if there was a dual team championship as we have today.
As mentioned, this was Coach Lineman’s final season as the coach. So much has been said of him, especially during this past year. But those of us that wrestled for him know that we can never say enough to honor Coach Lineman.
We end with a few memories Dan Morrison shared that all “his boy’s” can relate to.
“Coach Lineman NEVER insinuated that you would get beat. He was always positive and encouraging. He never expressed or showed any doubt that we wouldn't win. He believed in us, so we believed in ourselves.”
“The night before the Greenville match, Coach called each varsity wrestler to talk about how that individual match would go.”
“The Team Talk in the locker room before taking the start of a match. Coach stated what he expected. Never doubting the outcome.” (Before each match, he would go through our lineup one-by-one and tell us why we would win.)
“The recap of each match -weight by weight - at the following practice.” (I can attest that if you wrestled as hard as you can, he stressed the positive. Only lack-luster efforts got disapproving reviews in post-match practices.)
“People called us "Neal's boy's" and that felt great!” (Amen)