Eastern High School has a new wrestling coach leading the team, but he’s no stranger to the corporation.
Zach Pence had been working as the assistant varsity coach of the wresting program and, over the summer, was promoted to head coach. Previously a Comet himself, Pence wrestled for Eastern throughout his entire school career until graduating in 2006. While attending Purdue University, he helped with the Lafayette Jefferson High School and Tecumseh Middle School wrestling programs. After graduating college in 2010, Pence returned to his alma mater in Greentown.
“Being a head coach is something I’ve always wanted to do. … Every year I’ve been involved one way or another, helping little kid programs, middle school programs, and then the last four or five years I’ve been here at Eastern,” Pence said.
Pence is the grandson of former Eastern wrestling head coach Bob Jarrett. Knowing Pence always had the dream of someday being a head wrestling coach, Jarrett took Pence under his wing and guided him in the process before Jarrett retired after the 2018-2019 season.
Last year, the Comets had a strong showing at the team state tournament, finishing fifth out of 12. Additionally, Eastern was represented at the individual state meet with two qualifiers. According to Pence, the Comets have struggled with numbers in the program, including last season when the team had to forfeit two weight classes.
This season, the Comets again will have to forfeit two weight classes. With 14 wrestlers total, the team will be filling 12 weight classes. Looking at his potential list of wrestlers back in June, it appeared to Pence that the team may be short on the lightweights. Before the school year started, the coaching staff recruited athletes of the appropriate weights to fill in the necessary gaps. Now, the team has enough lightweights, but football injuries took out three heavyweight wrestlers, including previous semi-state and state qualifiers.
“We’ve done the best we can to make up for those holes, but still at the end of the day we’ve got two forfeits in our lineup,” Pence said.
Only two seniors are representing the Comets this season, 120-pound Ethan Duchateau and 160-pound Tytus Morrisett. Pence has high expectations for the two leaders, he said, and anticipates they could both qualify for state this season.
“We’ve got some big expectations ... for both of them (Duchateau and Morrisett), really, being our only two seniors. We need points from them. We need pins. They’ve got to win the matches just because they’re seniors,” Pence said.
Additionally, the Comets have some other alumni wrestlers, including Brady Porter (132 pounds), Brodie Porter (170 pounds), Luke Hetzner (138 pounds), and Tallan Morrisett (152 pounds). Pence anticipates state representation from the veterans as well.
Many of the freshmen have not seen a wrestling mat before a few weeks ago, Pence said. Having such a divide of experience in the team has been challenging task for the coaching staff, trying to prep the older wrestlers to reach their potential by the end of the season as well as teach the younger boys proper technique and form.
“The biggest challenge for me has been the line in the sand in the room. There’s brand-new guys and there’s guys that are really, really good. We don’t have a middle–of-the-road. I’ve kind of had to structure my practices to accommodate both groups. But, I think we’re turning a corner. It’s starting to work well,” Pence said.
The Comets will travel to county foe Kokomo tonight, Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 6:30 p.m.