Lakewood Ranch has an experienced group in 2019-2020.
This season, Lakewood Ranch High wrestling coach Pat Ancil is doing something he has never done before.
He is entrusting his seniors with paying their knowledge forward.
Ancil, 68, was the Mustangs coach from 2007-2016, when he stepped down to spend more time with his family. He stayed on board as an assistant under Tyler Small, but Small left for Parrish Community High this offseason, so Ancil agreed to return for one year as a bridge to a new coach.
It just so happens that Ancil has inherited one of the most veteran teams he can remember. The Mustangs have 10 seniors on their roster, all of whom have wrestled since their freshmen seasons. Usually, Ancil said, you get three or four of those guys. Having 10 is nearly unprecedented, and Ancil said all 10 have a chance to make the state meet in March.
With numbers like those, Ancil figures he has the opportunity to allow the seniors to take charge of the program. Ancil said he hosted the seniors at Esplanade Country Club in July for a two-hour luncheon, where each senior talked about his goals for the year and the strategy to achieve those goals. They also have been assigned readings about the qualities of great leaders and written essays on them. Those essays now hang on the team’s bulletin board, for all 42 members of the wrestling program to see.
Ancil also started a mentorship program, with each senior taking a freshman wrestler under his wing and showing them how Mustangs are expected to act.
“I wanted them to take large leadership roles,” Ancil said. “These are things that will help them not just as wrestlers, but in life. I want them to learn how important it is to pay things forward.”
How far is the “pay it forward” attitude going? On Dec. 24, the group will head to The Sheridan at Lakewood Ranch for a half-hour of singing Christmas carols to its residents.
In return, Ancil has given the group some extra rewards, like “Senior Tuesdays,” where the seniors get to dictate the practice schedule.
At the 2019 Preseason Classic at Palmetto High on Nov. 23, which featured powerhouse programs like Tampa Jesuit, Lakewood Ranch took 20 wrestlers. All 20 won at least one of their two matches. Some, like seniors Matt Monahan and Angelo Lafrese, won both. While other coaches were apoplectic with their athletes, Ancil was a picture of tranquility. Even after losses, he calmly addressed his wrestlers, telling them what they needed to improve on next time and giving them a pat on the back. In other words, he exemplified what he wants his seniors to be learning.
Ancil said he is excited by what he saw at the meet. His team is learning the lessons, he said. Now it is up to them to earn rewards for their hard work.
“They all have the potential,” Ancil said. “They all have the technical skills. They all have the physicality. Things become mental at this stage. They have to be mentally prepared for the road ahead. That is all that matters. You can be 42-0 and lose in districts. If they get mentally strong, I could see all 10 [seniors] at the state meet. That is the goal, and I think it is realistic.”