Casey Taylor’s accomplishments in wrestling are many, extending from a stand-out high school career at Reynolds during the early 1990s through the present day in his role as the Raiders’ head coach.
On Jan. 13 Taylor added another accomplishment to an already impressive resume, his 200th career coaching victory. Coming in Reynolds’s fourth match of the 2020-2021 season, the milestone win was emphatic, a 70-3 triumph over Franklin that saw the Raiders take nine of the 10 contested bouts, eight by fall. Taylor, now in his 10th season at the Reynolds helm, has added three more wins since, pushing his overall mark to 203-19.
“I’m trying my very best to keep it (the 200th win) in perspective,” Taylor said. “It means a lot, it means the team’s successful. If I have 200 wins under my belt that means the coaches that are helping have 200 wins under their belt and, more importantly, the team and community have 200 wins under their belt. It takes everybody.
“So what does it mean to me? It means my teams have really pushed hard and afforded me some great outcomes.”
Since becoming Reynolds’s head coach in 2011, Taylor’s Raiders have indeed had some great outcomes, capturing four PIAA team dual titles (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) and three team championships at the PIAA individual tournament (2015, 2017, 2018). As head coach, he has also piloted four wrestlers to the top spot on the state championship podium: Austin Matthews (2013), Cole Matthews (2015, 2018), Beau Bayless (2017), and Gary Steen (2018, 2020). He was named PIAA 2A Coach of the Year for the first time at the end of the 2020 season.
Taylor has difficulty singling out which of his 200-plus wins was most memorable, instead pointing to five; among them the four duals that earned the Raiders state titles. The other was a state semifinal match against Boiling Springs in 2014 which came down to the last bout. In that bout, untested Reynolds freshman Cole Rickert took a 4-2 ultimate ride-out victory over returning state champion Kyle Taylor, clinching a 31-26 victory for the Raiders.
Describing the win against Boiling Springs, Taylor said, “If you were to take a straw poll of everybody on both sides, they were the favorite. He (Rickert) dictated the pace, he stuck a few tough shots, ends up in the ultimate ride out, and goes on to win.
“I just remember going absolutely crazy and remembering the fans, just the emotion of winning that match. We ultimately didn’t win the state title (losing to Bethlehem Catholic in the championships), but that match felt like a state finals match to me.”
Of Taylor’s 19 losses, a 27-27 setback to Fort LeBoeuf on criteria at the 2011 Ultimate Duals in Brookville still gnaws at him. It was not only Taylor’s first loss as a head coach following 15 consecutive wins, but it came as the result of a strategic mistake he made in real-time.
Discussing that loss, which he readily owns, Taylor noted, “I told the kids ‘you did your part, I didn’t do mine.’ It was a life lesson for me as far as coaching; a very good coaching lesson and it humbled me. It made me realize I had a lot to learn and I still do. But that one humbled me for a while.”
Taylor came into coaching with a winning track record as a competitor. He finished his scholastic career with a mark of 106-5 and state championships in 1993, 1994, and 1995. To a certain extent, it was
Taylor’s experiences during that time have informed what has obviously been his successful approach to coaching.
“I try to provide the kids with the same opportunity I had, a structured work environment in a workout room where they know what to expect when they walk in there,” Taylor said. “Keep things consistent; the expectation of hard work, discipline, and family-oriented. That’s what I was provided by my coaches.”
One of those coaches was his stepfather, Brian Hills.
During his 25 year tenure as Reynolds’s head coach, Hills amassed a 371-38-1 record and guided the Raiders to five state team championships and five runner-up finishes. He and Taylor are both members of the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame; Hills as a wrestler/coach and Taylor as a wrestler.
“I spent the majority of my life not only living with Brian Hills but being coached by him,” stated Taylor. “His work ethic, his attention to detail, in my opinion, are second to none. Those are what basically carried me not only through high school but into my adult life and then, ultimately, the coaching world.”
Taylor knew he wanted to be a coach early on.
“I’ll be honest with you, when I was in high school I knew I wanted to coach,” Taylor said. “It’s just something I had a passion for.”
While a high school grappler, Taylor began assisting local elementary athletes. He then volunteered with high school wrestlers as a college student-athlete, first at Lock Haven and then Thiel. Following college, he became the second assistant at Reynolds in 2001 and then transitioned to Hill’s first assistant in 2008.
Taylor was hired as the head man upon Hill’s retirement in 2011.
Taylor is quick to credit his family, particularly his wife, Rachel, and the Reynolds wrestling community for the success he’s experienced as a coach.
“For all intents and purposes it’s my support at home,” Taylor said. “Without the support and structure at home, there’s no way you can do it. “The other part is the overall support and hard work from the community and the kids. The kids (his wrestlers) and their families believing in the system, understanding the hard work and what they have to do to become champions.”
Despite his success, Taylor does face challenges guiding his team, the most significant of which to him is being employed outside the Reynolds school district (he works in human resources at a pool and spa manufacturing plant).
“The hardest part is not to be in constant communication with them (his wrestlers) throughout the day; to see how they’re doing, to see if they need anything,” Taylor said. “We have pretty responsible kids that kind of help me out in that area.”
Of course, this season cannot be adequately discussed in any form without at least touching on the challenges posed by the COVD-19 pandemic and how these are being addressed by coaches.
“This is an unfortunate time for everybody,” Taylor observed. “The one thing I’ve been taught is to try and look on the bright side of things. The one thing I keep telling the kids is ‘Look at the glass as half full, it’s very, very easy to get caught in the path that believing the glass is half empty’ and when that happens it breeds negativity.
“I keep telling the kids ‘Hey we can’t do Powerade, we can’t do Iron Man (two national-level wrestling tournaments) because of canceling, but we can go wrestle, we can go do the things you want to do.’ I’m just trying to challenge these guys to get better every day in the practice room and then at the end of the day look at the glass as half full. That’s kind of the message all year long, take the positives and leave the negatives in the past.”
The challenges of the current season notwithstanding, Taylor would like to see more kids take up wrestling so as to benefit from the life lessons the sport teaches.
“I wish I had a magic wand that allowed me to get more kids involved in the sport,” Taylor said. “It’s taught me so much, not just on the mat. Everybody knows about the life lessons that you push yourself to, to be better people. Some hard things in life don’t seem so hard after you’ve wrestled.”
Taylor is the third Reynolds coach to notch 200 career coaching wins, his 203 victories surpassing the 201 of Neil Lineman (1961-1977) but 168 behind Hills’s total (1986-2011). He attributes his quick attainment of the 200-win milestone to the fact that teams now wrestle more duals each season than in the past when Lineman and Hills were coaching. And though he has carved out his own niche among the pantheon of Reynolds coaches, Taylor still considers himself their junior.
“We (Reynolds) went 4-4 our first year of wrestling (under Coach Richard Sherwood in 1960-61),” Taylor said. “Since then we have not had a losing season. That’s an impressive thing. I appreciate the 200 wins, but Coach Lineman and Coach Hills are the guys. I’m just the understudy that wants to be like them.”