Wrestling: Merrillville’s Dave Maldonado named P-T Coach of the Year
By JOHN O’MALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent March 30, 2013 11:08PM
Merrillville's David Maldanado is the Post-Tribune Wrestling Coach of the Year. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
106 — Tyler Schwartz, Valpo; Tyler Joseph, Portage; Issac Cortez, Hanover Central; Zach Pardus, Hobart; Dijon Smith, West Side; 113 — Branden Truver, Lake Central; Alex Bravo, Valpo; Rickie Rodriguez, Morton; Chris Diaz, Clark; 120 — Matt Lechowicz, Lake Central; Matt Estill, Chesterton; Ruben Rodriguez, Morton; 126 — Michael Martin, Merrillville; Max Buckley, Valpo; Jake Gross, Lowell; Evan Larsen, Hanover Central; Mike Double, Chesterton; Alex Noworul, Calumet; Ryan Brown, River Forest; 132 — Julian Torres (INJ.) Portage; Doriante Bryant, Calumet; Jack Davison, Chesterton; Mike Krzyston, Andrean; 138 — Zach Slosser, Munster; Tony Vasquez, Hobart; Jason Spence, Portage; Jimmy Marich, KV; Mack Neal, Valpo; Connor Guzior, Griffith; 145 — Stephon Wilkins, Portage; Willie Armstrong, Merrillville; Tyler Burlison, CP; Jake Sebahar LC; Andrew Schulties, KV; Preston Nelson, Griffith; 152 — Kodie Christensen, LC; Mark Feliciano, Bishop Noll; Beau Tauber, KV; Ryan Camp, Griffith; 160 — Damien Gomez, Bishop Noll; Matt Hollins, Merrillville; Dax Jones, CP; John Nauracy, Munster; 170 — Scottie Sopko, Hobart; Jacob Hazi, CP; Jeff Brassea, LC; Johnny Morrison, Kankakee Valley; Nick Fowler, Calumet; Ramiro Cazares, Gavit; 182 — Eric DeLuna, Merrillville; Matt Langbehn, CP; Tim Schoonveld, KV; Antonio Rodriguez, Hobart; Alex Tucker, LC; Darius Ginn, Valpo; Noah Fowler, Calumet; 195 — Derrick Suttles, Valpo; Joel Bolen, KV; Alex Jara, Merrillville; Derrick Medley, Gavit; Robert Rivera, E.C. Central; Adrian Palacios, Morton; 220 — Roberto Yanez, River Forest; Travis Williams, Portage; Ben Standifer, LaPorte; Steven Potoskey, CP; Brandon Lolkema, Calumet; 285 — Ryley Harlow, Chesterton; Landon Blackburn, LaPorte; Gerald Valenzuela, Hobart; Mike Pajdzik, Gavit.
Updated: May 1, 2013 4:07PM
MERRILLVILLE — Adam Garcia was behind 4-0 in his first match at the IHSAA state tournament when he received a jolt of silent inspiration from his coach.
The Merrillville senior happened to look up at Pirates head coach Dave Maldonado just before the second period began in his 120-pound match against Kokomo’s Andrew Ledford.
“He pointed to his heart and looked at me,’’ Garcia recalled. “He looked a little disappointed, too. It was right then that I said to myself: ‘I’m not going to lose.’ ”
Garcia (37-3) didn’t — rallying for a memorable 8-6 win.
While he ended up losing in the quarterfinals, Garcia won his final two matches and ended up placing fifth in the state.
His come-from-behind win in the opening match not only proved to be a defining moment for him, but provided a shining example of the high-caliber type of coach Maldonado is for the Pirates.
“Coach really knows what he’s doing,’’ Garcia said. “He prepares us for everything. He’s big on conditioning and high endurance. At state, I had two overtime matches and that conditioning and endurance really helped me.’’
Despite the fact Maldonado lost 13 seniors off his 2011-12 team — including six starters — he ended up leading the Pirates to an extremely successful season and earning The Post-Tribune’s 2012-13 Wrestling Coach of the Year honor.
After a slow start, Merrillville overcame a variety of injuries and illnesses to capture the EC Central Sectional, Calumet Regional and Merrillville Semistate crowns in addition to finishing in a ninth-place tie at state with Bloomington South (31 points).
“The one thing we kept preaching to the kids wasn’t wins and losses, but just trying to go out and get better every time they were on the mat,’’ Maldonado said. “We thought if we could just keep doing the things we were doing right and focus on those things while trying to make changes with the things that weren’t working for us — we’d be fine.
“It was a process. It was a good year of coaching, in terms of how it really tested us as a staff. Early in the season, we fell a little short (at home) against Portage. We had to move some guys around — that was tough. We were used to doing well in the DAC and we struggled a little bit. I think once we competed in the Mishawaka Tournament (Al Smith Invite) the kids realized they were a better team then even they ever thought they were.’’
The Pirates finished one point behind Penn (215-214) for the team title. It was quite an accomplishment for a team that lost a lot of talent and struggled early.
It also happened to be the turning point for Maldonado’s team — coupled with a one-point DAC road win over Crown Point a week later — as the Pirates eventually produced seven state qualifiers.
“Our goal is always to focus on February and the postseason,’’ said Maldonado, who credited assistants Rob Petyko, Gene Bierman, Michael Lawrence, and volunteer coach Jerry Williams, for all their help.
“I couldn’t have done it without any of them,’’ he said. “I also want to thank the Merrillville wrestling community, our club kids and junior high coaches.’’
The greatest testament to Maldonado’s coaching ability comes from Garcia.
“I’ve had 18 to 20 coaches since I started wrestling, and I can tell you coach really knows his stuff,’’ he said. “He teaches the basics. The way he teaches things is step-by-step. You can pick it up pretty quick. He’s very disciplined and he really pushes you. He builds your confidence up and never gives up on you.”
“I’ve been here four years and I still learn things from him every day. The way he teaches us — that was his work ethic as a kid growing up. He was a state champion and a national champion. The way he teaches, it’s like at a college level — and it’s the high school level. The guy is so passionate about what he does.
“It doesn’t matter what level of the program you’re in — he’s there for everyone. It’s not just varsity. He cares so much. He checks on your grades and talks to your teachers. You’re not going to get away with anything with him. He wants to make sure you’re never late. He wants you to graduate no matter what. He tells us life out there — it’s a hostile environment. You’re going to win at life and you’re going to lose at life — but as long as you work hard and have the right attitude, you can do anything. That’s what he preaches. He wants you to win at the game of life.’’