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When Garrett Vulcano arrives in the wrestling room for practice, the first thing the Chartiers-Houston senior does is check the shoes of assistant coaches Jeff Havelka and Scott Bard, even Garrett Johnston. From the footware, he deduces the difficulty of the workout.

“It depends if the new coach ties his shoes or he doesn’t,” Vulcano said of Havelka, who is also a first-year gym teacher at the high school. “If he does, then that means I have to practice with him.”

“They both are tough,” he explained of Havelka and Johnston, who wrestled at West Greene and Waynesburg College. “If they both lace up, then you are in trouble. You’re in for a really hard practice.”

Challenging workouts are the norm now that wrestlers have entered tournament time, but Vulcano welcomes them because he has lofty aspirations for the post-season.

“Our coaches always tell us what to do and to go hard and I’ve seen others around me succeed because they listened and did that,” said the 18-year-old son of Frank and Susan Vulcano. “You do that and good things happen. For those who slack off, then it doesn’t.”

Slacking off has never been Vulcano’s nature, and as a result he has become the all-time winningest wrestler in school history. With his fall during a 31-28 loss to South Fayette in the section championship match, the 195-pound grappler scored his 133rd career victory. The win surpassed the mark of 132 wins set by Michael Innes.

With a fall in a WPIAL Class AA team semifinal loss to Burrell, 37-0, and a major decision in a 42-30 consolation win over Jefferson-Morgan that advanced CH to the PIAA team tournament, Vulcano improved to 34-2 for the season and 143-37 overall.

“Chartiers-Houston has such a rich tradition in wrestling, and to be the guy who has won the most matches ever in school history is really something special,” said Bucs’ head coach Bill Sutton.

While the achievement has not “sunk in yet,” Vulcano acknowledged the truth of Sutton’s words. “There have been a lot of good wrestlers in the past so it feels pretty good,” he said.

Some of those good wrestlers Vulcano knows well. They’re relatives.

In addition to all of his uncles, his father was a standout on the mats. The 1981 Char-Houston graduate was a WPIAL wrestling champion and state semifinalist. He also was a three-year starting linebacker on the Bucs’ football team before he went on to excel in football at California University of Pennsylania.

Plus, his grandfather, Frank, was a wrestling and football star, who started on Chartiers’ 1947 WPIAL Class A championship football team. He won three conference wrestling titles and was a state finalist while compiling a 53-7-1 record at Lock Haven. After serving two years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and earning a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1955, the senior Vulcano enjoyed an outstanding coaching career. After a stint at Scott Township and his alma mater, he coached at California University of Pennsylvania, where he and his son have been inducted into the college’s athletic Hall of Fame.

“(Wrestling) is in my blood and my family has been my biggest influence,” said Vulcano, who started in the sport in the first grade. “I love the sport. I like wrestling as a team and I love meeting new people. One of the best parts of the sport is the people that you meet.”

This year, Vulcano has met several new people who have influenced him greatly. While he did not share Jeff Patterson’s passion for the San Francisco 49ers, (he rooted for the Ravens) Vulcano has picked up pointers from the new junior high coach as well as all his mentors. He hopes to continue improving his footwork, as well as his positioning on top as he prepares for a run in the upcoming individual events. While his aspirations to go far in the team tournament resulted in a third-place showing in the WPIAL, he has “a lot of goals still left” to accomplish.

If recent history is an indicator, he should go far in the individual wrestle-offs. Last year, he won gold, silver and bronze medals at the sectional, district and regional competitions. He also qualified for the PIAA tournament, posting a 1-2 record in the championships.

“Individually my goals are WPIALs and states,” he said.

His experiences should help him. When he was in 10th grade, the Bucs competed in the PIAA team tournament. Besides last year’s active participation, Vulcano has also attended many state championships in Hershey as a spectator.

“I’ve been up there and watched it a lot of times, but watching and wrestling in the tournament is a lot different,” he explained. “My experience in 10th grade and last year at individuals should help me.”

Preparation always aids Vulcano. It’s what makes him successful, says Sutton.

“Garrett has an unbelievable work ethic and when he wrestles, he is never out of position,” he said.

Wrestling at lighter weights early on in his career seasoned him in that regard. On the mat, Vulcano never quits. He wrestles the entire six minutes of a match.

“At the lighter weights I wrestled, you have to wrestle six minutes or more. But the bigger guys don’t move around as much. Wrestling at the lighter weights helped prepare me.”

So did wrestling against juniors and seniors, he added. “When you are younger and in 10th and ninth grade, it’s tough to go up against those guys.”

On the gridiron, opponents found it tough to go up against Vulcano. In fact, this fall, he garnered MVP defensive honors in the Black Hills Conference, the same division that featured four-time district and state champion Clairton. Vulcano recorded 131 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. An all-state performer and two-time Almanac all-star, he finished with 444 career tackles.

Of the MVP recognition Vulcano said, “I guess it’s good but we did not do good as a team. The main goal was we wanted to be able to make the playoffs and win a few games but we slipped up. It was disappointing,” he added of the 4-5 campaign.

“After I was named MVP and all my other friends made all-conference, in the end, it showed that a lot of people gave us a lot of respect. But,” he trailed off. “We still lost.”

In losing, Vulcano has learned lessons and he says that wrestling maybe helps football more than football transfers to the mats.

“The biggest thing is losing and getting back up. In wrestling, you can’t sit around for like a week after a defeat and dwell on it forever. Losing is hard but in wrestling you are always moving forward to the next match. When you’ve lost, you’ve got to strap it up and get better.”

Better things await Vulcano. He likely will play football in college. Indiana University, Alderson Broaddus and West Liberty have indicated interest in the linebacker.

“He really has a pretty tough decision to make on which sport it will be then I think things will fall into place,” said Sutton. Regardless, Sutton predicted “SUCCESS” for Vulcano. “He’s a hard worker and a natural leader,” he explained.

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