In August, Boomer Fechko was announced as the new head wrestling coach at Lake Erie College. Fechko, a native of Broadview Heights, Ohio, served as the head assistant coach at Cleveland State University from 2018-2021. Prior to his stint at Cleveland State, Fechko was on the coaching staff at NCAA Division I wrestling programs Buffalo and Bloomsburg. He also spent one season as the head wrestling coach at Dakota Wesleyan.
MatBoss caught up with Fechko and talked to him about leading the Lake Erie wrestling program, differences between Division I and other divisions, what makes Ohio high school wrestling so strong, how the sport continues to evolve and more.
You have had several stops in your coaching career at various levels and divisions. You accepted the head coaching position at Lake Erie in August. What drew you to Lake Erie College?
Fechko: Northeast Ohio is home to me. I was still in the area after the whole debacle at Cleveland State and wanted to get back into coaching. I was doing everything I could. There's not a lot of opportunities out there. I was just really blessed to get this opportunity to where I was able to stay in the area.
Obviously, whenever there is a coaching change, there is a transition. You're coaching wrestlers that you didn't recruit to the program. How has the team dealt with the coaching change? How has the buy-in been from the team?
Fechko: It's been unbelievable. All the credit really goes to the guys. We have 28 guys on the roster. All 28 were all in from day one. They've done an unbelievable job. Really nothing but praise to them. Obviously, I didn't know what I was getting myself into and they didn't know what to expect. But it's been a very smooth transition. All 28 have just done an unbelievable job. They have done everything I have asked them to do and to the best of their ability.
You were a young head coach when you were hired to lead Dakota Wesleyan in 2014. You went on to become a Division I assistant at a couple programs before becoming a head coach at the collegiate level again. When you reflect back on your time as a head coach at Dakota Wesleyan to now, how much have you changed as a coach?
Fechko: Probably night and day difference, honestly. A little bit older, more experienced. I think understanding guys on the team a little bit better. Understanding the process a little bit more and expectations. Being young was a great experience for me at Dakota Wesleyan because I learned a ton when I was there. It was tough, but it provided me with some really good experience. I think what it probably did more for me than anything was it made me a better assistant coach after that.
As a competitor, you wrestled for both Findlay (Division II) and Heidelberg (Division III). You have coached in Division II and Division I. What do you see as the biggest difference between Division I and other divisions of college wrestling?
Fechko: I think resources are probably the biggest difference. Obviously, there are some different rules with the divisions, but I would say probably the resources are the biggest thing. Let's be honest about it, at your smaller programs you're probably doing more things that you didn't have to do at the Division I programs. It's just the way it is.
In January, you have a dual against Cleveland State, a Division program you're obviously very familiar with. How important is it for your program to see a Division I program like Cleveland State?
Fechko: It's huge. It's important. I think it's good to see that level of competition. I called Josh Moore to try to get that on the schedule. One of my assistant coaches unfortunately has leukemia, but he is doing amazing. He is way ahead of schedule. He is beating it. They expect a full recovery for him. We're turning that dual into like a take down leukemia/pin leukemia event. It was important for me to do that with a local team to try to attract more people to it. Josh was all on board with that with Cleveland State. So I'm really thankful that he was. I'm looking forward to that event.
Your 141-pounder Christian Small transferred to Lake Erie. He was an All-American in 2021 and round of 12 finisher last season. What does he bring to your program?
Fechko: He's a competitor. He's very unorthodox but he knows what works for him. He knows how to win. I'm really looking forward to watching him compete and chase the national title. He's done a great job in the room helping other people. He's a big piece of this puzzle. I really have high expectations for him and looking forward to what he can do.
James Penfold was an All-American last season at 165 pounds. What have you seen from him in early season training?
Fechko: He's really focused. Another guy who's a competitor. Just looks at every training opportunity as a way to get better. He works unbelievably hard. He does everything I ask him to do. He pushes himself. When you watch him train, you can see that he's training with a purpose. He's motivated. He's focused. When you when you watch him you can tell that he's training for a national title. You can just tell in what he's doing. I really look forward to seeing what he can do this year.
All-American Corey Gamet is out with injury. What's the prognosis for him? Could he return this season or possibly next season?
Fechko: When I got here he had already had his surgery. There's a lot up in the air. He's going to be out this year, unfortunately. So we're going to look to get a medical redshirt for him. Hopefully he will be back next year. But he's another guy that's doing a great job for us. He's at the lifts. He's around the team. He's still training but with limitations. But he's a guy that's still on board and still focused. He's going to be traveling with the team. I want him to still be part of the program as much as possible and he's done a good job at that.
You're an Ohio native coaching college wrestling in Ohio. Obviously, Ohio has traditionally been one of the power states for wrestling, along with Pennsylvania and a few others. What makes Ohio high school wrestling so strong?
Fechko: There's just a lot of talent, a lot of ability. There are a lot of guys that get back into coaching at the high school level, middle school level or the youth level, that had a lot of success. Even if they go away to college, a lot of them come back. Kids training year-round is kind of expected now. So you're seeing these kids at Super 32, Fargo, Junior Duals, all the major events. So when you have guys are training year-round and competing year-round, and you have all these clubs and great coaches up and down the lineup -- youth, middle school, high school -- they're going to produce great results.
You had a successful collegiate career. You were an All-American at the Division II level. Is there anything you wish you would have known when you were competing that you know now that might have helped you?
Fechko: I think there are a lot of little things. I wouldn't say there's any one specific thing that would have changed anything. When you become a coach and you learn things, and you see how kids respond to things, there are times that it pops up in your head and you think, if I would have thought this way, or if I would have done this just a little bit different things could have changed. But woulda, coulda, shoulda. At the end of the day, I don't regret anything. I'm very blessed to have the career that I had.
How have you seen the sport change since you competed?
Fechko: It has evolved. I think it's constantly evolving. I've really tried to do my best to remain a student of the sport. Constantly learning, not just from other coaches, but from the guys on my own team. Back when I was in college it was really hard drilling. Then as time has progressed you're starting to see more guys sparring, play wrestling. I think you have to stay a student of the sport. You have to be able to adapt with the times. I think that's something I'm doing a much better job of now that I'm older, compared to when I was first a head coach.
Lastly, what is this year's team capable of accomplishing? How good can you be?
Fechko: I think we have a lot of potential. I have high expectations as far as guys going out there, competing really hard and performing at a high level. Obviously with Corey Gamet out, on paper, anytime you have an All-American out, that's a big hit. But we have a couple other guys at that weight class that are doing an unbelievable job, chomping at the bit for their opportunity, and they're going to have their opportunity. So I have a lot of confidence in that weight class. But like I said, the guys have done a great job. Obviously, I haven't seen them wrestle anybody. It's just been ourselves. But I expect these guys to wrestle hard, compete and perform at a high level. I think the potential is there. As long as we're doing the right things training-wise and doing the right things off the mat, anything is possible. But we're just going to take it one day at a time and be ready to go by the time national tournament comes in March.