PITTSBORO — “Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy,” legendary Olympic champion and record-setting former University of Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable once said. The motivational quote hangs on posters in mat rooms around the world.
As coach of the fledgling Seaforth High School wrestling team, one of Ryan Armstrong’s jobs in building a program from the ground up this year has been introducing his young grapplers to the blood, sweat and pain intrinsically linked to an ancient sport not intended for the timid. An equally formidable task was not just inspiring his novice athletes to dream big, but to pin those dreams down.
The Hawks coach and his brawny understudies are accomplishing both of those goals, as evidenced by a trio of home victories last Friday to capture the regular season Mid-Carolina 1A/2A conference title. The new kids on the block defeated Graham, 60-15, Chatham Central, 54-24, and Voyager Academy, 66-18.
“We wrestled hard, we wrestled physical,” Armstrong said, with a squad depleted by concussion protocols and sickness, but no COVID cases.
“Knock on wood,” he said. “The big thing we were looking for was getting wins out of some kids tonight. We wrestled a lot of our J.V. kids.”
Claiming conference bragging rights would seem to be an unlikely grail for a new school to pursue in its debut wrestling campaign.
“We were going after a conference championship, that was our goal. We secured it tonight,” Armstrong said with a twinkle in his eye, and presumably a broad smile beneath his mask. It was the culmination of many challenges, not the least of which was putting his troops through rigorous physical demands.
“Getting them to understand what the discipline (is) that they need to put into the sport” was the biggest hurdle, Armstrong said.
“This is the first sport that a lot of these kids have played that requires them to manage weight, come to practice, work out two and a half hours strong, and turn around again and do it the next week, then you factor in you’ve got winter break, factor in you’ve got exams” that interrupt the training regimen and continuity of skills work, he said. “They don’t see that with football.”
There were the blind-sides he wasn’t anticipating.
Like the departure of 106-pounder Josh Miller, a state runner-up for him as a freshman at Northwood last year and potential state champ this year. Miller was a foundational pillar in Armstrong’s building architecture, but transferred to SPIRE Institute and Academy in Geneva, Ohio. He was recruited there to wrestle by three-time Olympian Kenny Monday, who had been head coach of the Tar Heel Wrestling Club at UNC the past few years.
That left Armstrong’s son, Layne, as the only Hawk with significant wrestling experience among the all-freshmen-and-sophomore team. Layne is ranked 7th in the state with a 21-2 record, and has now dropped from 120 pounds to 113.
Armstrong thinks the Hawks could land a berth in the upcoming NCHSAA state team duals. And he expects his son, Lockard Bowen at 120 and Judge Lloyd at 152 to be strong contenders to qualify for the individual state championships at the 2A Mideast Regional Tournament, which Seaforth will host Feb. 11 and 12.
But on Friday night, it was strength in numbers that carried Seaforth to victory. The three visiting teams’ lineups were riddled with vacancies. Seaforth had men on the mat in 38 of 42 total possible matches. They won 24 of those with forfeits. The Hawks were 6-8 in the 14 matches actually wrestled.
Against Chatham Central, 120-pounder Caden Brewer was leading 4-0 in the second period when he applied a bar/half nelson to clamp Brady Phillips at 2:30. Collin Evans evened the score, 6-6, for Chatham Central when he picked up his second takedown of the first period, threw in leg grapevines and underhooks and decked Seaforth 126-pounder Maddock Cody at 1:07.
After Seaforth picked up a string of forfeits, Mitchel Mason showed the Bears’ Nicolas Rinell the lights at 170 pounds after nearly getting pinned himself. Rinell tossed Mason to his back with a 5-point headlock, but overextended himself. Mason rolled him through, cranked a half nelson and got the pin at 1:25, widening the lead to 36-6.
Chatham Central’s Steven Stilhan pinned Cole Ballard with a power half at 1:44 of their 195-pound match, and teammate Jarrett Mashburn used an underhook/reverse half to pin the Hawks’ Michael Amatucci with just 59 seconds elapsed at 220 pounds.
In the final bout wrestled, Armstrong stuffed a first period takedown shot by Chatham Central 113-pounder Sabastian Demian, spun behind and slapped on a cradle for a fall at 1:34.
Against Graham, the Hawks won two of five contested matches. Ballard headlocked Graham 195-pounder Hector Perez at 1:15, throwing him to the mat with a thud and a pin. Armstrong walked a bar arm around Oscar Tello’s head, cranking the Red Devil 113-pounder to his back for a pin at 3:15.
Graham’s Jonathan Betram piled up a 15-0 tech fall against Jason Antley at 145, needing just 2:29 to end the bout. Red Devils’ 106-pounder Abdiel Moreno used a half nelson on Seaforth’s Breennan Luster, and the ref slapped the mat for the fall at 5:08. Graham’s Maximum Profitt scored three takedowns, a reversal and twice picked up back points for a 16-4 major decision against Cody.
The Hawks lost all three contested bouts against Voyager.
The Vikings’ Logan McElroy squeezed a front headlock and spun behind Travis Greene for a takedown, then ripped a half nelson for a 59-second fall at 138 pounds.
Jordan Ruedi did away with Seaforth’s Mitchel Mason in 30 seconds at 170 pounds, converting a high crotch single leg takedown into a crossface cradle. At 182 pounds, Voyager’s Jed Rose hit a high crotch single and a power half to deck fall Ethan Budlong at 1:35 of the first period.
Seaforth takes the mat again on Thursday at Graham, where the Hawks will wrestle against both the Red Devils and the North Moore Mustangs.
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