Retooled and reloaded: LaGrange wrestling looks to take another leap forward in year two under Michael Pharis

Published 11:52 am Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The LaGrange wrestling program has been rebuilt and retooled. The Grangers finished third in a tough region4-4A last season to put the program back on the map and now, in year two under head coach Michael Pharis, the program is looking to take another step forward.

“We finished third last year in the region in team duels and third last year in individual duals and our motto this year is ‘defend what you earned,’” Pharis said. “We might have surprised some people and surprised ourselves a little bit last year, but it shows you what this team is capable of when they put in the work.”

There were competitions and tournaments a season ago where the Grangers struggled to fill a lineup. That should be much less of a problem this season.

The program’s growth has been substantial with the high school and the Gardner Newman Middle School program no longer being able to wrestle in the wrestling room at the high school as they have run out of room with so many new participants.

“Last year, we had everybody from the middle school and high school in one room together and our goal was to max that out, but we did not expect to do it so fast,” Pharis said. “On our master roster, we have 47 right now.

“When we first stepped in to coach last year there were just four guys at the banquet that came back from the year before, so it is a great problem to have.”

The team has been working through some growing pains in the early goings of this season. Through the first month, Pharis was without many of his wrestlers as they were in the football season, and he has been the only coach at practice for the most part.

“When we were without the football guys while they were in the playoffs, it was next man up which wasn’t possible last year because we didn’t have a next man,” Pharis said. “We are going to have 14 or 15 guys letter that would not normally letter in varsity. We went 2-8 without the football guys, but those two wins were huge. It’s going to be big going forward because most of those guys who wrestled in those tournaments were JV guys.”

With the GHSA changing the rules for female wrestlers this season so that they can now only face other female wrestlers, the Grangers are in the midst of building their girl’s program. The team had no girls on last year’s roster but already has two out this year.

“The girls come out here and put the same sweat equity in as the boys and we are happy that the sport is growing, and we have a chance to showcase some of the talented girls we have at LaGrange,” Pharis said. 

Last year’s most talented wrestlers — Tavon Howard and Fernando Donis  — graduated, leaving a leadership void. Up stepped a couple of new leaders for the team.

“It’s Shean Shirey’s squad to lead and he is a really quiet guy, but he has stepped up and been a leader,” Pharis said. “He is a leader by example.

Alan Pasada was a freshman year last year and was a full-time starter last year as a freshman and has done everything we have asked of him.”

A lot of the wrestlers at LaGrange High are multi-sport athletes. Pharis knows how essential having those boys and girls is, but has particularly enjoyed the wrestlers who have bought into the sport 100% and joined Pharis over the summer.

“We have a good group of young men that have really bought in,” Pharis said. “Guys like Christian Black and others that don’t play other sports are coming to everything we ask them to. We had six guys compete in the Super 32 preseason tournament and that was the first time LaGrange had ever had anybody compete at that and these are the types of things that we want to get used to doing.”

LaGrange is no longer the underdog. The Grangers made a name for themselves a season ago and Pharis is pushing his team to maintain what they have built. 

“I think this group is here for the long haul, and I believe if we can stay the course and keep working hard together we can do something special in the next couple of years,” Pharis said.