Status: Finis

Holy Cross sets sights on Division I titles
Editor/October 17, 2013 | Contributors: Eric Desormeaux, T.J. Miller, Donald Ortego, Ben Kritsonis, Chuck Stall, Sue Ellen Lyons, Chris Guillot



“The first day of practice was better than any other year I have been a part of the program.”

This was the observation of Holy Cross co-head coach T.J. Miller, who is starting his fourth year as a Tiger wrestling coach and his first as a “co-head coach.”

“Kids seemed crisp and in shape.  I’m excited to see what happens at the first competition.  You never really know where you are until you start wrestling some other people.”

The caveat in his last statement was typical of any coach after only one practice.  But he was nevertheless very impressed by his wrestlers.

[Left: Tiger wrestlers spar to the sounds of Led Zeppelin in the background.]

Head coach Eric Desormeaux, who resuscitated the team after Coaches Sue Ellen Lyons and Donald Ortego kept it on life-support after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the school in 2005, was a little more reserved. 

“Every day’s a great practice for us,” he said.  “Our only goal is to make tomorrow better.  Most of my seniors and juniors have been wrestling with me for seven years now.  Every kid 9th through 12th believes they or the kid next to them can win a state championship this year. That’s the kind of wrestling room I like to walk into.  That kind of dedication is fun to coach.”

The Tigers have good reason to be “fired-up” this season.  For the first time since the 2006-7 season Holy Cross will be competing in Division I at the LHSAA State Wrestling Tournament in February.  After several other Holy Cross athletic programs were allowed to compete at the 5A division this year, Desormeaux still had to face an LHSAA board to allow his Tigers to do the same at the state tournament.  Holy Cross had been placed in Division II for the 2007-8 season due to a smaller enrollment after Katrina.

But it would have been tough for the LHSAA to deny the request after the record Desormeaux’s Tigers have posted since leaving Division I.  That would include:

·         Two Division II state titles (2009, 2013);

·         One Division III state title (2011);

·         Two Division II two runner-up places – 2010, 2012);

·         An initial Division II 6th place (with a still very post-Katrina team) - 2008. 

The Tigers were slight favorites in 2011 but were upset by a very strong team from Teurlings Catholic in Baton Rouge.  They remedied that fast in 2013, securing the championship before any of their nine finals matches began.

“Our return to Division I was never a question for us, Desormeaux continued.”  “Football, baseball and basketball moved up a division [to 5A in 2013-14], and we jumped at the chance.  The boys on my team want to wrestle at the next level and I want to give them every opportunity to be seen and recruited by colleges.”

 How could the LHSAA say “No?”

Since 2003 the top three spots (championship years in parentheses) have been dominated by Brother Martin (2003, 2007, 2012 and 2013), Jesuit (2004-6, 2009), Catholic (2008, 2010) and Rummel (2011).  Without winning, Rummel has broken into the top three places three times and St. Paul’s has twice.  The four through six spots have been dominated by Rummel, St. Paul’s Comeaux, and Airline.  Holy Cross’ last top-10 finish was 6th place in 2003.  The Tigers want a reserved place among the top three teams.

Holy Cross coaches (l-r): Head coach Eric Desormeaux, Carlos Bertot, Richie Dixon, co-head coach T.J. Miller, Ben Kritsonis, Donald Ortego.  (Not in picture: Chuck Stall & Dennis Bush)

To compete consistently at the top of the Division I ladder Holy Cross has amassed a stellar coaching staff as well as a new coaching structure that includes a head coach and a co-head coach.

“My friendship with Coach Miller and new Wartburg coach Eric Keller gave me some insight into the head coach/co-head coach dynamic,” said Desormeaux.  Their success at the college level can’t be questioned[1] .   Coach T.J. Miller’s responsibilities have allowed me to be a better head coach for the entire team.  It has allowed me to unite and develop our entire 5th through 12th-grade program.”

Miller welcomed the idea of being a “co-head coach.”

“I think one of the best attributes Desormeaux has as a head coach is that there is no ego with him.  You see ego at many other places where two coaches collide and hurt their programs.  But here it has always been about the kids and improving them each day.  I’ve never felt like I’ve been Eric’s assistant and that’s a tribute to him.”

Now in his fourth year at Holy Cross, Miller is a Wartburg College alumnus who won a 2007 NCAA Division III national championship and placed second in 2008, while wrestling for his father, recently retired Wartburg Coach Jim Miller.

Predating and alongside Desormeaux since Katrina has been Coach Donald Ortego, who is entering his ninth season as a Tiger wrestling coach and sixth year as a Holy Cross faculty member.  Ortego is a 1985 graduate of Holy Cross, who wrestled for the Tigers and started coaching when his son Donnie began wrestling there in 2005.  When Desormeaux took the reins, Ortego honed his coaching skills while traveling to clinics across the country with the Tigers.  Desormeaux commented that Ortego “is a lot of man to move” for his heavier wrestlers.

In their third seasons at Holy Cross are Carlos Bertot and Richie Dixon.  A Division I state runner-up in 1985 and 1986 for Jesuit, Bertot later led the Blue Jays to Division I championships as their head coach in 2006 and 2009.  Dixon was a three-time Division I state champion for the Brother Martin Crusaders in 1999-2001.  In his second season with the Tigers is former Brother Martin assistant coach and a 1988 state champion for the Crusaders, Dennis Bush.

This season two new members joined the Holy Cross faculty and the wrestling coaching staff.

Chuck Stall was a two-time Division I state finalist for Brother Martin in 2001-02, years in which he won Lee High Invitational (Louisiana Classic) against the same Division I competition, as well as competition from the other divisions and out-of-state schools.

Ben Kritsonis won three Division I state championships for Tara High School in Baton rouge from 1992-94, and followed that with a stellar collegiate career including a third-place NCAA Division III finish for Wartburg in 2000 and a NJCWA championship for Colby Community College in Kansas in 1997.  Kritsonis also started for Dan Gable’s 1999 University of Iowa squad at 125 lbs.

When asked about his staff Desormeaux said “The coaches were all attracted to Holy Cross’ mission of developing athletes and the administration’s dedication to the sport.”

 Holy Cross has been dedicated to wrestling since Brother Melchior Polowy coached the first Louisiana wrestling team against a team from Newman in 1944.  Polowy retired in 1971 after winning 22 state championships.  Former Tiger state champion Ed Kavanaugh stepped in during the “modern era” when schools were allowed only one wrestler per weight class, and won state championships in 1983 and 1988. Desormeaux and Miller want that title again.


The Holy Cross vs. Newman match was well promoted by the Times-Picayune in 1944:
February 29th, 1944 March 3rd, 1944 March 4th, 1944 

Nobody can come close to predicting accurately how teams will fare in Division I this year.  It is a long and arduous season and “match one” has yet to be contested.  But the inclusion of the Tigers should upset the accustomed balance of the top six Division I teams at the state championships.  Holy Cross returns eight Division II finalists from last season and another wrestler who was a #1 seed but was forced to withdraw due to illness.  Two-time defending Division I state champion Brother Martin will be the favorite to win Division I as the season starts.  Some preseason favorites are pretty safe bets, but several weight classes do not have clear favorites entering the season.  This could be a season in which not every star in the universe has to align themselves in a straight line for a team such as Jesuit, Catholic or Holy Cross to earn that first place trophy.

 If day one is any indication, the Tigers are well on their way.


 _[1] Wartburg College has won five of the last six NCAA Division III national championships and has won 10 overall.  Three of Desormeaux’s and Miller’s wrestlers currently compete for Wartburg.



Bofinger, William, “Ready….Wrestle – Louisiana High School State Wrestling History.

Derry, Jim, “One of the Guys” – Sue Ellen Lyons takes over Holy Cross Wrestling Post-Katrina.”  The New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 23rd, 2005.

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