Wrestlers grapple with inexperience


Katherine Grimm

Sophomore Adam Berg maneuvers on top of his opponent at the first tournament of the season. The team finished third overall, with Berg personally finishing first in his weight class.

The referee counts two seconds and slaps the mat. Hunter Ritter, class of ‘15, pins his opponent in the final match of the year, winning the National Prep Wrestling Championships’ 195-pound weight class over  LJ Barlowe from Haverford High School in Pennsylvania.  

Ritter was one of nine wrestlers who placed in states last year. He led the team to a fifth-place finish at the National Preps, which was the best finish in JC history.

The past two seasons have set the bar high. In the 2013-2014 season, the team scored a 4-3 record in conference and 15-5 overall.

Last season the in-conference record was 5-0 and was 28-4 overall. Having relatively impressive records in the past two years, the team will now have to rely on young wrestlers to maintain their success.

“I’m excited to take over [the team] in a rebuilding year,” head wrestling coach Tom Free said.

This is Free’s first year as the head coach, taking over for coach Keith Watson, who coached at JC for 13 years. Watson, during his tenure at JC, was nominated and selected for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s “Lifetime Service to Wrestling” award in 2013.

A change in coaching after a total of 13 years is a tough position for Free as a coach, but he is ready for the challenge.  

“I have the benefit of building on what Coach Watson has built here over years and years, and I am able to have the vision and direction of our team because of that. My goal is to take us from a state powerhouse like what we were last year to eventually a national powerhouse,” Free said.

Despite an incomplete lineup to start the season, wrestlers on the team have high hopes. The team, losing many wrestlers from last season, needs the young and inexperienced wrestlers to step up and take on big roles despite not being familiar with the sport.

“I’m feeling pretty confident. We have a lot of kids this year,” sophomore varsity wrestler Luke Strappelli said.

Competing and a love for the sport is important for inexperienced wrestlers.

“You look at the kids who are experienced and try to help them meet their goals, but you also have to consider the younger, inexperienced wrestlers that are coming in and keep them learning, having fun, and improving,” Free said.

The wrestling team has near record number of total wrestlers, but the loss of seven state-placing seniors leaves half of the starting lineup for experienced wrestlers to fill.

According to Free, last year the team was able to “coach themselves, and coaching was more managing,” whereas this year they need to be taught techniques.

According to Strappelli, both coaches bring their own style to wrestling. “Coach Free is younger and has his own techniques and styles that are somewhat different from [Watson’s] views. I feel Free brings more aerobic activity, too,” Strappelli said.  

The team had their first tournament, the Early Bird Tournament, on Nov. 28.

They finished third, behind Benedictine from Va. and Mount St. Joseph’s in Baltimore.

“At the Early Bird Tournament I saw a lot of high energy in the new wrestlers, and a lot of heart when they were wrestling kids with a lot more experience,” Free said.

The team has faced minor injuries to freshman Tucker Rey and junior Eric Ashton early in the season. “I am excited to see the full lineup later on in the season when we have all our injuries out of the way,” Free said.

Daniel Robinson is a Copy Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.