Lathrop coach Rick Mudd celebrates victory

After taking his Lathrop Mules to their third-straight top-four finish at the MSHSAA Wrestling Championships, coach Rick Mudd has earned the All-News-Press NOW Boys Coach of the Year award for winter sports.

Mudd has been in command of the Mules for a long time now. He first started in 2001, and after this year’s third-place finish, he has four top-four finishes at state. With this award, Mudd feels this isn’t just a win for him but a win for the whole Lathrop area.

“Oh yeah, it’s cool,” Mudd said. “It’s great for our school, our community, our kids. It’s kind of a full-school deal. It’s always an honor when your program is rewarded with things.”

With his next season set to be his 20th at Lathrop, Mudd has seen all sports at Lathrop thrive, whether it be the football team advancing to the state championship in 2018, or watching Drew O’Connor win it in the pole vault in the spring of 2019.

“This is a real proud community,” Mudd said. “The school takes a lot of pride in what they do, and our kids take a lot of pride in what they do. This group of seniors, they’ve put in quite a few trophies in the case — not just wrestling. It’s just been an honor to coach them.”

This is Lathrop’s fourth season in a row where the school had at least one state finalist. Tanner Dallinghaus won it all 106 in 2016-17, while Tristan Blair took second at 126 in 2017-18. Justin Wright won it all at 182 while Dorian Walters settled for second at the end of the 2018-19 season.

Lathrop saw two more finalists this year with Walters taking first at 195 and junior Josie Wright took second in just her first year of girls wrestling. For Mudd, it’s nice to help put his school in the spotlight, and once he got a taste of that for the first time, he hasn’t let up one bit.

“When I first started, I was wondering if I was ever going to get one,” Mudd said. “Talk about success brings success — that happens, and once we got one, it seemed like they just kept coming and coming and coming. Once kids see that, they want to be a part of that.”

Even with those two finalists this season, Mudd feels like his team could have sent more kids to the finals.

“I think we had three, four, five kids that could’ve possibly been finalists this year. Luck of the draw took some of us out, but that’s just the way it works.”

Both Walters and his dad, Dylan, have tremendous respect for Mudd and the specific time he’s spent with his wrestlers.

“I feel like he’s done a really good job of working on areas that I can improve on as well as working on areas that I was already good at and building on that,” Dorian said. “On top of that, he pushes me good and keeps my mind focused.”

The Walters family is just one of many Mudd has coached over his near 20 years, ranging from the Hartzells, the Wrights, the Dallinghauses and the Osborns. Dylan is excited to see all of his kids work with Mudd.

“Him and coach (Mike) Tichenor have been awesome,” Dylan said. “Instead of trying to change it, they just try to fine tune it and help them. He absolutely deserves it. ... Just to watch the team, Mudd does a really good job. I feel like he’s always done a really good job of building these boys up at the right time and having them perform at their best at the right time. I’ve got two younger boys, and I’m looking forward to him being around when they get there.”

— Derek Zimmerman-Guyer

Derek Zimmerman-Guyer can be reached