Connor Miller and Andrew Petroulias know they have some big shoes to fill this season. The pair are taking the position of retired head coach Paul Bass, who led the Westhampton Beach wrestling team for over three decades, worked with the program for almost four, and laid the foundation for the success the Hurricanes still see today. Having played for and against Bass, the pair, inspired and recruited by the former leader to get involved in coaching, know there’s a standard to uphold.
“We will do our best to put the guys in the best position to win and help them not only on the wrestling mat, but off it in the classroom to become better young adults,” said Miller, who previously coached the junior varsity team and was a varsity assistant last season. “We’re obviously not him, so there will be some differences, but we’ll be looking to keep the same type of discipline, emphasis on the kids’ studies, on them just being good people, not just good wrestlers. We’re not interested in having only wrestling be the focus.”
Miller, 30, wrestled for East Hampton for five seasons, where he was a three-time All-League nod and league finalist before graduating in 2007. The East Quogue resident graduated from Roger Williams University, and is a private strength and conditioning coach. Bass reached out to Miller to join the staff in 2017 not only knowing him from coaching against him, but also from having worked with Miller’s cousin, Ronan Seltenreich, a 2011 graduate and former Hurricane All-League wrestler. Joining the U.S. Army after graduation, Seltenreich served two combat tours in Afghanistan before attending the Suffolk County Police Academy in 2015. The current Village of Quogue police officer remains on staff as a volunteer coach.
“My role before this was more working one-on-one with the kids and doing a lot more of the strength and conditioning work,” Miller said. “Now, I’ll be running practice more often as well as dealing a lot more with the administrative things. I have a lot more on my plate for sure, so the role changes a little bit, but I’m still coaching the kids and getting them prepared for the season and the competition. We’re excited to see the kids go out there and compete, same as every year.”
Petroulias, 27, wrestled for Westhampton as a junior and senior. After graduating in 2010, he competed for Gettysburg College for two seasons, and in 2014, graduated with a degree in economics. He’s been a volunteer coach the last five seasons, and agrees expectations will remain the same.
“Coach Bass had a huge impact on my work ethic. He always pushed me to work my hardest in every aspect of my life, not only in wrestling,” Petroulias said. “He also had a great ability to motivate all his athletes and have them perform to their full potential. We still have extremely high expectations for our kids not only in wrestling, but in their academics and also as members of their community.”
That’s something Bass always put first, while still amassing a 324-194 record, making him the sixth winningest coach in Suffolk County history. Bass taught 246 All-League, 50 All-County, eight county champion, 13 state-qualifying, and six All-State wrestlers. He sent grapplers to the state tournament 12 out of his last 14 years at the helm, the best record of any Suffolk County program over that span. Bass also earned coach of the year awards seven times, and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2015.
“His approach is something we’re going to try to emulate. You can’t not,” Miller said. “Paul is a great influence. He’s shaped a lot of young men over the years and really built not only a wrestling program, but a community of people who are willing to help and be there for each other, who are good people more than just good wrestlers.”
Bass built a foundation for not only a family-style team, but coaching staff. Pete DeTore, who leads the junior varsity team with Joe Schultz, graduated with Petroulias in 2010, was a four-time All-County wrestler, named All-State in 2009, and captained the team his junior and senior year. Ethan Mitchell, another Westhampton grappler, who graduated in 2008, took a full-time teaching position at East Hampton High School, and is now the assistant to head wrestling coach Jim Stewart after working with the Hurricanes the past six seasons.
“We spent a lot of time over the last few years with these guys,” Miller said. “It’s nice to have the continuity. That was one of the big things that was stressed with the changeover of the coaching staff — we didn’t want the kids to have a brand-new group. We wanted there to be familiar faces for them so they can have that confidence that while things were changing, the program wasn’t going to just completely flip.”
“It’s still a little surreal that I am partly taking over the program,” Petroulias added. “We lost several great seniors to graduation — obviously, it is very difficult to replace a kid like Liam McIntyre — but our lineup is going to be solid this season.”
McIntyre will be returning to volunteer as a coach during winter break from Long Island University, where he competes for the Sharks’ football team. The 2018 graduate, who was the first seventh-grade starter the program ever had, and was the second and last state finalist Bass worked with, finished his career 171-37, setting a new record-high in wins at Westhampton. He also is the first six-time All-League Hurricane, earned three All-County nods, was a two-time Suffolk County champion, named All-State twice, and the first Westhampton wrestler to earn All-American status.
“The program has given so much to me that it’s an honor for me to able to give back right now,” said McIntyre, who has already joined the team for practices. “Especially because coach Bass left . . . the team and the coaches could always use some extra guys in the room. I’m pumped.”
“It’s something special to see,” Miller said of the return of so many former student-athletes. “Between the parents, alumni, the coaching staff, everyone is in it for the kids and for the right reasons. That shines out when you look at the program. We all show when you put work in and you do the right things, good things happen.”