PITTSBORO — Northwood wrestlers scored nearly 150 team points in a Senior Night tri-match on their home mats on Friday, with the Chargers steamrolling 64-16 over outgunned 3A Central Conference foe Eastern Alamance and flattening an outnumbered Chatham Charter, 83-0.
The Chargers still have one dual match and three tournaments remaining in the regular season, but are gearing up for the post-season regional tournament to qualify for the state championships.
“We’ve got three or four weight classes that are really strong, and I expect them to come through at regions,” said Michael Kuball, Northwood volunteer assistant coach who is filling in for head coach Joe Harris as he battles health issues.
“Are we ready? I would say we’re real close. We just got through Christmas and everybody is kind of fat and happy.”
Despite a 43-24 loss to conference opponent Orange two days prior to Friday’s competition. Kuball said the Chargers would be pushed hard in the practice room through the rest of the season.
“By then we’ll be ready to roll” at regionals, he said, with some wrestlers likely dropping down a weight class to be more competitive.
Kuball expects 170-pounder Cliff Davis, 182-pounder Ethan Kuball, his son, and 220-pounder Jake Dunning to qualify for a return to states. Davis qualified two years ago; Kuball and Dunning went to the show last season.
Kuball was pleased with the way the team bounced back on Friday.
“We had a tough match Wednesday against Orange so we … told them they had to come around tonight and show their true colors, and they did,” he said.
“Plus it was Senior Night, and they came out pretty strong to support their seniors, and I’m pretty proud of the way they wrestled,” he said.
The Chargers have a large graduating class that will leave some big holes in the lineup next season: Jack Casey, Hughson Crean, Davis, Dunning, Ryan Johnson, Abraham Owusu-Tyo, Austin Thomas, Ron and Dream Walker.
The match between Northwood and Eastern Alamance demonstrated a growing trend in North Carolina wrestling. Both had female starters.
“It’s so exciting to see the interest from girls in wrestling,” Kuball said. “North Carolina will be joining other states next year in launching a sanctioned women’s wrestling division with their own teams.”
Kuball applauded the development as a matter of fair competition.
“They have the moves, they have the technique, they just don’t have the upper body strength (to match up with the boys),” he said. “I take nothing away from those girls. They come out strong and they work just as hard as the boys do in the wrestling room, and they deserve every bit of accolade they get when they win.”
Eastern Alamance coach Bruce Watson agreed with his counterpart that women’s wrestling teams are a positive move. The coaches also agreed that a lack of a middle school wrestling program has been a detriment for their high school teams.
“That’s a definite disadvantage for our program because we have kids coming in freshman year … and it’s a steep learning curve. You grow up playing basketball, but wrestling, you don’t learn moves until you come into the wrestling room,” Kuball said.
But their impediments pale in comparison to Toby Holland’s challenges in relaunching a wrestling program from scratch at Chatham Charter after a three-year hiatus.
“We’re super small,” Holland said in understatement about his two-man team. “The strength isn’t in the numbers. The strength is in the heart of the wrestlers that we have. They fight hard every second of the match. From whistle to whistle our kids go hard.”
That spills over into the mat room, he said. His two grapplers have a contagious work effort that keeps them enthused despite being outmanned every match. That attitude, in turn, keeps Holland stoked as a coach.
Chatham Charter has a strong basketball pedigree, and wrestling is in the shadows. Holland is working hard to recruit wrestlers by informing them there is a second winter sport available, one that offers the allure of personal goals and growth — you get the credit when you win, and there’s nobody to blame when you lose.
“I just love wrestling. It’s a warrior sport,” said the 30-year Army veteran who did his high school wrestling in Goldsboro. “That whole mentality is a lifelong mentality. We won’t always have two wrestlers. There’s going to come a time when we have a big, strong program, and when we do the state’s going to need to look out for us.”
The Knights duo was game, but mathematically beaten before stepping on the mats against Northwood and a 54-6 loss to Eastern Alamance.
Chatham Charter’s Julian Todero lost by second period fall to Eastern Alamance’s Chinchilla in what had been a close match to that point, and by 16-0 technical fall to the Chargers’ Coltrane Northington. The Knights’ Seth Lindley split his matches at 152 pounds. He decked Aiden Clark of Eastern Alamance with a first period half nelson/underhook combination, but was clamped by Northwood’s Owusu-Tyo.
Elijah Farrow got Northwood off to a brisk start against Eastern Alamance at 160 pounds. He turned Evan Harbold for a 3-point near fall and 7-1 lead with a second period underhook/overhook, finishing up with a half nelson fall.
Davis needed just 1:03 in the first period to slap on a half nelson, post the far arm and slip in a leg for a pin. With Kuball and Cash Hoffman gathering forfeits at 182 and 195, respectively, Northwood built its lead to 24-0.
Dunning, wrestling up at 285 pounds and giving up 26 pounds to Jeff Giovani, was leading 7-0 in the second period when he flipped the larger Eastern Alamance opponent and wrapped up a half nelson for the fall and a 30-4 team lead.
The Chargers’ Sunday Oo was awarded a forfeit for a 36-10 lead at 113 pounds, then Isaac Gilligan wasted little time dispatching Kaitlyn Watson, transitioning from a reverse half to a near side cradle for the first period fall and a 42-10 Northwood lead.
At 145 pounds Northwood’s Ron Walker put on a crowd-pleasing show in dropping Chasen Phillips with a 16-4 major decision. Walker picked up a pair of first period takedowns off of a shrug and a balance check. He earned a third takedown when he defied conventional wrestling protocol when Phillips misfired on a takedown attempt. Walker leapt forward and twisted backward in mid-air to pop up on top of his opponent. He ended with three near falls in the final frame to clinch the major decision.
“Ron’s a unicorn. Every team has one of those. Probably not quite as eccentric as Ron. Ron is a good wrestler, but he’s a classic entertainer,” Coach Kuball said. “He’s got 35 different moves, and not one of them is one that we teach. Only a few people in the county could throw themselves over the top of another wrestler in some sort of an acrobatic cartwheel and come out on top.”
Owusu-Tyo finished the night for Northwood at 152 pounds with a bar/chancery takedown and 30-second fall against Aiden Clark.