Athlete of the Week: NMB gets big things from Small

Don’t let the last name fool you. Big things are happening for Joey Small, and he wants even more.

The North Myrtle Beach junior is a three-sport athlete for the Chiefs as a member of the cross country, soccer and wrestling squads. Despite it being his newest sport, Small enjoys wrestling the most.

And the sport is starting to like him back. After making a 9-2 start to the season, he was overwhelmingly voted the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week.

In only his third season on the mat, Small has made great strides over the past two seasons. The hard work is starting to pay off this season, in which he got off to a 5-1 start while moving up to the 120-pound class this year.

“I’ve always played soccer and I really like it, and I run cross country mainly to stay in shape for soccer and wrestling,” said Small, who was a state qualifier in last month’s Class AAA cross country championships. “But wrestling is my No. 1. It’s non-stop action from start to finish and there’s nobody out there to help you. It’s all on you.”

That hasn’t been an issue this season for Small, who finished third in last weekend’s North Myrtle Beach Classic with a 4-1 record despite having three defending state champions in his weight class among the field. Small won three straight matches before falling in the semifinals, but he won his consolation match to capture third-place in the highly competitive tournament.

“There were three state champions in my division, but one of them is in 4-A and the other two are 2-A, so I won’t go through them (to get to state),” Small said. “I would like to win the state championship this year, and maybe win it again my senior year.”

First-year North Myrtle Beach coach Andrew Baeli isn’t counting Small out of anything. As an assistant coach last year, he saw Small come a long way last season and make even more improvements already this year.

“For a junior he’s a great leader for us,” Baeli said of Small. “He picks the whole team up because he knows it’s not just about him. Coaches love having guys like that on their team.”

Small plans to continue playing soccer and running cross country, but he now has his sights set on wrestling even beyond high school. Wrestling scholarships are hard to come by due to Title IX restrictions, but just like on the mat, it’s hard to count out Small.

“I love playing all the sports but wrestling is my favorite,” he said. “I would love to be able to do it in college and I believe I can. I’m a lot more confident this season and it’s really opened my eyes to doing bigger things down the road.”

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