Catasauqua Press

Monday, January 22, 2018

Joe Russo takes over Catty wrestling team

Friday, December 15, 2017 by Jeff moeller Special to the Press in Sports

With his many trips across the “bridge” in the past, Joe Russo certainly is excited about making numerous more treks in the future.

Russo was recently approved by the school board as the new head wrestling coach at Catasauqua replacing Kyle Rusnock, who resigned after three years to spend more time with his family.

Since 2002, Russo has been connected either with a wrestling program at Catasauqua or Whitehall, making seemingly countless trips across the Hokendauqua Bridge between wrestling as well as living in North Catasauqua and teaching at Whitehall High School.

A former teammate of Rusnock in high school, Russo served as an assistant for one year with longtime head coach Mike Conner before he began in the same role with Rusnock.

“I wrestled with Kyle (Rusnock) when we had some pretty good teams in the late 80s and 90s,” said Russo. “We were pretty successful back then, and I knew I would stay with wrestling for a while.”

When the opportunity of being a head coach arose, Russo knew it would be a good fit. His sons, Jacob, a freshman, and Brendan, a seventh grader, are in the program.

“The timing was perfect,” he said. “My two sons are now in the program. I knew Kyle’s sons were pretty involved in traveling hockey, and he suggested that I take over the program.

“It is a good time for that as well because the program is in good shape, and I have known most of these kids since they were in kindergarten and all the way through.”

Russo began his career as an assistant under Whitehall head coach and Catasauqua native Tim Cunningham in 2002 and stayed with him until 2009. From there, Russo took over the Catasauqua Youth Wrestling program for nine seasons, thus making many initial contacts with his current wrestlers.

The Roughies lost state qualifier Ben Nosal along with regional qualifiers Ryan Greene and Tyler Youseff and fellow senior Dan Dailey from last year’s lineup.

However, Russo sees plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Roughies’ chances this winter. Catty has 16 wrestlers at the junior high level, 23 at varsity/junior varsity, and 45 in the youth program.

“Our numbers are good,” he said. “We do have a lot of continuity at all levels. Our junior high and youth coaches have been doing a great job.”

At the recent Rough Rider Invitational Tournament at the high school, LaVonte Bouie (heavyweight) and Jacob Latsch (182) both took second place; Oscar Cordon (126), third; and Shane Brader (195) and Brad Panto (170), fourth.

Russo has liked what he has seen from the senior leadership of Brader, Cordon, and Latsch.

“They all have really worked hard and have provided leadership,” said Russo about the trio. “They have given a lot of effort and are really helping the younger kids. We took 11 kids into our tournament and we placed five. That’s a good sign.”

Russo noted the team has suffered some injuries, notably to Derrick Rodriguez, Tyler Melendez and Austin Brett who all should be steady contributors, and they will use the remainder of the month to become healthy for a busy end of winter ahead.

The Roughies have dual meets with Bangor and Southern Lehigh this month and will return to the mats in early January in a dual meet against Notre Dame. They will participate in a junior varsity tournament at Northern Lehigh Dec. 30.

For the Roughies, it is about looking at the bigger picture.

“We’ll be a lot stronger in January,” added Russo. “We have a lot of guys out of the lineup with injuries right now. We do have a lot of depth and good balance. Right now, our goal is to get everybody healthy for tournaments down the road.”