MIDDLEBURY — A 2007 Middlebury Union High School graduate who won two Vermont wrestling titles as a member of the Tiger wrestling team will take over the MUHS wrestling program this winter.
But Ethan Raymond, 23, who went on to win the 2011 New England NCAA Division III 165-pound championship for Bridgewater State University, will not exactly replace longtime MUHS coach Jon Ashley, a former Vermont high school coach of the year.
Ashley, who recruited Raymond to replace him, will remain with the program for at least one year to both handle many of the administrative details of the job and teach Raymond how to pick them up, said MUHS activities director Sean Farrell.
“Jon’s willingness to be here and his willingness to mentor him as a head coach certainly aided in my decision to hire Ethan with limited experience as a head coach,” Farrell said.
At the same time, Farrell said Raymond’s “educational background as well as his wrestling background” made him a good choice to take over a program that has generally fared well over the past decade. The Tigers have had decent numbers, record-breaking individual wrestlers and state champions, and several strong team finishes.
“Ethan obviously has a significant background in wrestling,” Farrell said.
Raymond assisted the Bridgewater State program for a winter, led the Middlebury Area Youth Wrestling program this past winter and has helped it out in the past, has served as a counselor at wrestling camps in both Middlebury and Bridgewater, Mass., dropped in and helped out Ashley when he could in recent winters, and also assisted the MUHS freshman football team this fall.
Raymond left MUHS with a then-record 142 career wins; set an MUHS record for most tournament titles in a single season (seven), a feat that he accomplished twice; pinned 81 high school opponents; and earned a berth on the podium in the New England championships as a high school senior, placing sixth.
And when he left Bridgewater and returned to Middlebury to work for his father Mark Raymond’s contracting business, Raymond said Ashley quickly approached about taking over. This summer, that request became formal.
“He talked to me about becoming a head coach eventually,” Raymond said. “Maybe about four or five months ago he asked me about taking over as head coach, and said that he would help me transition in.”
Farrell confirmed that Ashley had been thinking about stepping away, but had stayed on “because of his commitment to it.”
Both Farrell and Raymond said Ashley is welcome to stay aboard as long as he wants.
“Right now we’re going to play it year by year,” Farrell said. “It really depends on Jon’s willingness to let go as well as Ethan’s progress.”
Raymond noted that the program has scheduled a number of open mat sessions in recent weeks. He said he told Ashley that he would be there, and that Ashley did not have to show up — but then Ashley didn’t miss any.
Raymond speculated that without the “I-have-to-be-there pressure” that Ashley — who coached Raymond for 13 years, including his elementary school days, when Ashley was a youth coach — might choose to stick with the program.
“I think he’ll be around for a couple years or longer, which is fine with me,” Raymond said. “He’s a great asset to Middlebury.”
Raymond said Ashley ran excellent practices. Raymond said he shares the same central philosophy as his former coach and now colleague, and he expects much to remain the same in the program.
“We have a lot of the same beliefs, values as coach,” Raymond said.
At the same time, he has been exposed to advanced techniques and practice ideas that he will use in leading the program.
“A lot of the … coaching styles will be similar,” Raymond said. “What I would like to do … is bring a college style that a lot of high school teams don’t have.”
Like every Vermont high school wrestling coach working outside of Bennington, Raymond would like to see his program numbers increase to the point MUHS can field wrestlers in all weight classes.
“I’d like to see the numbers a little higher and fill out the depth chart,” he said.
Raymond has a long-term plan to achieve that goal. He notes that in youth wrestling many wrestlers get discouraged by pressurized tournament environments, and he will try to emphasize a more relaxed, enjoyable experience at the younger program levels so that kids “just start to love the sport more.”
He will also follow the successful model used by the Tiger field hockey program and once a week ask his varsity wrestlers to work with local youth wrestlers. Raymond said those joint practices will not only encourage the younger athletes, but also help his high school wrestlers.
“The best way to learn is to teach,” he said.
If everything goes as planned, Raymond believes his competitive goals for the program can be met.
“I’d like to get us back into the top five at states and get a few more New England qualifiers,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.