Gannon's Head Coach Don Henry instills Success, Confidence in his Grapplers

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 at 10:30 AM
Gannon's Head Coach Don Henry instills Success, Confidence in his Grapplers by Christina Alexander

To many that enter Gannon University’s Carneval Athletic Pavilion (CAP) for the occasional work out, Don Henry is the first face you often see entering the facilities.

 Whether it is behind the counter making sure his work study employees are correctly counting the inventory of basketballs, volleyballs, soccer balls, or in his office working feverishly at his computer, Henry somehow balances it all as Gannon’s head wrestling coach, Director of Intramurals and the CAP.

However, his office tells a different story. A story of what tugs at his heart strings a little bit more than designating the rules and regulations of the building: the sport of wrestling.

Posters of past teams outline his glass office walls, showcasing his pride. Awards and plaques are hung in the forefront so that anyone who sits in his office is suddenly immersed in rich wrestling history.

A graduate of Slippery Rock University and four-time collegiate wrestler, Henry was hired by Gannon in 1984 to resurrect the wrestling program. He hasn’t looked back, establishing Gannon as one of the premiere wrestling programs in Division II.

In his 27th season as head coach, Henry put another fruitful season in the books. The Golden Knights finished 9-2-1 overall and qualified four grapplers for this year’s 2011 NCAA Division II National Championship in Kearney, NE.

Junior Jose Matos, redshirt junior Ethan Swope and redshirt seniors A.J. Milanak and Zack McKendree were among the lucky four.

“McKendree and Milanak are less vocal, but a better lead-by-example-pair,” Henry said. “Both want to be national champions and both are doing what is necessary to reach that goal.”

“It has been a very positive influence on the young wrestlers to see what it takes to train and to be a national regardless if they reach that goal.”

Although the Vandergrift, PA, native fell short of becoming a national champion, he has etched his name in the Gannon record books becoming the fifth two-time All-American in Gannon history. McKendree is Gannon’s all-time leader in victories with 111.

McKendree finished his collegiate career as the second-best in the country, falling to Findlay’s No. 3 ranked Michael Lybarger in the national championship by a score of 5-1.

Matos found himself a home in Gannon after transferring from Bucknell University and has thrived in his respective weight class at 125. He clinched an eighth place finish at Nationals and notched All-American honors. Matos became the 13th single-season All-American in school history.

“Jose has proved his worth by losing his first match at Regional and fighting back and defeating the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the region and nation in the wrestle-backs. [He] then beat a returning All-American to place third which qualified him to Nationals. He took the hard road.”

The “out work our opponents” mentality has become the primary focus when it comes to competing on the mats. As a result, a majority of the Golden Knights’ matches have been won in the third quarter, once opponents tire out.

Under Henry's tutelage, current and past players have prospered in competition.

This season’s notables were redshirt sophomores Sam Brehm and Chris Boyd and junior Swope.

“Brehm got better each week,” Henry said. “He placed sixth in the region as an undersized wrestler in a very tough weight class. Boyd showed glimpses of greatness and what will come next year while Swope physically beat his opponents on the mat.”

In 2006, former player R.J. Paterniti became the first wrestler in school history to win four regional titles and became All-American for the third time with a seventh –place finish in the 149-pound division at the national championships.

 Paterniti joined the likes of Todd Proper as the only two wrestlers in school history who to earn All-America honors three times.

In 2001-02, Gannon sent four wrestlers to the national championships and finished seventh in the country – the highest finish ever by a Gannon team.

 Although these are just a few accomplishments, Henry is like a proud father when it comes to seeing his grapplers reach their maximum potential and advance in the wrestling ranks.

“They are kind of like my kids,” Henry said. “I am very proud of how they mature and grow during their time here.”

With each season that presents itself, the fervor of coaching never gets stale.

“Love of the sport and the passion to teach wrestling life lessons, such as hard work sacrifice and control of oneself are great things to bring into the real world,” Henry said. “I like to think that I am a do as I say and do as I do guy. I don't expect them to do anymore that I am willing to do.”

*The Gannon University athletics website contributed to parts of this report.

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