Wrestling adjusts to new leadership

By Dylan Grien

Few Westminster teams in recent memory have had to perform under the difficult conditions that the 2013 wrestling team has had to overcome this year. Between adjusting to a new coach, replacing last year’s dominant senior class, and overcoming a plethora of injuries, this Westminster team has had to perform in difficult conditions. Now, through the leadership of the senior captains Jesse Webb and Justin Geeza, interim head coach Bobby Hayes, and the multitude of underclassmen wrestlers who have stepped up in place of injured teammates, the Mat Cats hope to improve as strong contenders for a state title.

The year started with promise, as Geeza and Webb seemed poised to take over the roles of last year’s seniors Matthew Tyler and Julian Houk. Unfortunately, by the time practices started last semester, Geeza was sidelined with concussion symptoms, and senior Jason Fromal followed suit by injuring his hand. Although injuries are commonplace in wrestling, the squad this year has worked to overcome the challenges presented by this multitude of injuries.  The team has been significantly shorthanded all season, as both senior captains and team leaders such as Gabe Phillips have had to wrestle through pain.

“I would say we have definitely been plagued by injuries so far this year,” said Hayes, “but I am proud of how my guys have really stepped up to the challenge.”

In order to overcome the injuries to some key team members, unlikely heroes, including underclassmen, have had to step up perform at an incredibly high level, as well as become leaders during practice and matches. The team has had an influx of underclassmen that have risen to the challenge and become, and in almost every weight class, there are freshmen and sophomores that are competing for a spot on the state team. Sophomores such as Alex Balser have become emotional team leaders who bring energy into every event, and talented underclassmen such as Davis Houk have filled the vacancies left by injured upperclassmen and become forces on the mat. Needless to say, the extra effort that these underclassmen have put into their individual and team’s success has not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.

“Coach Hayes has really helped me out this year by letting me and a couple of other guys stay late after practice to help us drill,” said Houk. “I definitely feel like he has made me a lot better of a wrestler.”

In light of the injuries, the remaining senior captain, Webb, has been working this season to try and lead the team to a title. Webb, who has been wrestling since freshmen year, has powered through his share of injuries and hardships this year, but he has again emerged as a team leader and a serious contender for a state medal.  A visible team leader on the mat, Webb has also had some help off the mat by fellow seniors Justin Geeza (who is going to wrestle at the colligate level at Wabash College) and Jess Neuhauser.

“I see Jess and Justin constantly rooting for their teammates and helping out Jesse in any way they can,” said senior manager Mihika Kohli. “[Webb] has really worked hard this season, and the support he has gotten from his teammates has been awesome to see.”

Coach Hayes has additionally faced his own challenges when taking over the wrestling team for the first time this season. Rather than being simply hired, Hayes was voted to be the interim coach after former coach Abdul-Malik left the school, so the athletic department put tremendous faith in him to efficiently and effectively lead the wrestling team as head coach. Upon Hayes’ arrival, the structure of the wrestling program has changed a bit, most notably during practices. In years past, fitness was the main focus of practices, as wrestlers would spend much of their time running and lifting. Under Hayes, however, practices have become more focused on actual wrestling, as team members will spend most of their time in rigorous live scrimmages in order to better become prepared for the situations they will face in matches.

“Practices are definitely more intense this year, but I wouldn’t say that Coach Hayes is overworking us by any means,” said Webb. “I really feel like we are getting more out of practice this year than in years past.”

Next up for the Mat Cats are the area, region and state tournaments in which the wrestlers hope to build upon their third place finish earlier in the year behind Lovett and Calhoun, and bring home a title.

“I really feel like we are a balanced and dangerous team this year,” said Hayes. “Hopefully we can knock of Lovett and Calhoun, because I know my guys deserve it.”