MatCats open season with a string of big wins

MatCats open season with a string of big wins

Photo credit Kathryn Foley

Early on a Saturday morning in December, the boys wrestling team unrolled the green mats in the Turner Gymnasium in preparation for the annual invitational, the Westminster Duals. This year’s invitational, in which the Cats were vying for their first title since the event’s inception, included teams from Campbell, Darlington, Lakeside, North Atlanta, Pace Academy, Pike County, and Salem. After years of hosting the eight-team meet and never placing first, the boys came together and faced Campbell High School in the finals. Ultimately, the Cats conquered the opposition and took home the win. This success was not just a stroke of luck for the Cats, but rather a culmination of grueling practices, motivated athletes, and three specific matches.

All eyes were set on the Westminster Duals when the wrestlers, led by senior captains Julian Houk, Matthew Tyler, and Austin Williams, began pushing themselves in practice early this fall.

“We have a really talented group,” said junior Jess Neuhauser. “I’d say this is the best team since I’ve been in high school.”

In the final three matches of the meet the Cats were down by 18 points, with six points being the highest score attainable per match. The team needed its last three wrestlers, senior Houk and juniors Jack Houk and Cole Spain, to pin their opponents.

After both mentally and physically exhausting matches, both Spain and Jack Houk pinned their opponents from Campbell, each earning six points. It was the perfect setup for Julian Houk to step up to the mat, dominate his rival, and ultimately tie the meet.

“[The final match] was incredibly tense,” said Neuhauser, “but more so exciting.”

Julian Houk had an impressive season last year, and this season he has shown especially strong potential.

“Julian is a great wrestler,” said head coach Khalil Abdul-Malik. “After falling short last year in the state tournament, he is extremely hungry this year. I anticipate he will take the championship.”

Encouragement like this contributes to Julian Houk’s wealth of confidence. This confidence proved justified, as he pinned his opponent and caused the Campbell wrestler to fault four times, giving the Cats six points to tie the meet. Ultimately, a member of Campbell was charged with unsportsmanlike conduct, which gave the Cats the victory.

Looking ahead the team hopes to continue its success after an early peak in their season.

“I’m really excited about the team this year,” said Julian Houk. “We’re pretty young but have a lot of potential, and with some work we’re going to be a lot of fun to watch.”

With only three seniors, the Cats will have to look toward the underclassmen, including some of the 17 freshmen, to contribute crucial points. Already emerging from the freshman class has been Harrison Fiveash, a talented wrestler who, according to Abdul-Malik, has dominated his opponents. Adding to the Houk family triumvirate is freshman Davis Houk, who, after being bumped up a weight class, managed to defeat his upperclassman opponent from Campbell, a win which contributed necessary points to the Cats’ victory.

Other standouts include junior Jesse Webb and sophomore Harrison McCamy.

“Jesse has been doing a great, great job,” said Abdul-Malik. “He brings a new swagger to the team. I’m extremely impressed with the way he constantly competes well and with his attitude.”

The wrestling team currently shows no signs of slowing down and appears to be heading toward a dominating season.

“Nothing is given to you in this sport,” said Abdul-Malik. “You have to take it. And we deserve it.”