Wrestling: Young Panthers stay hungry for region title

Matthew Ashworth knows the Carolina Forest wrestling squad isn’t the same experienced group that dominated the region last year.

But he hopes this team is smarter.

“The main thing is just not to make any stupid mistakes like we did last year,” the senior said. “We ended up losing in the first round [of the playoffs] to a really tough team due to a penalty point for unsportsmanlike conduct. I think we’ll be fine as long as we don’t make any of our losses worse.”

That defeat stung the team, which had the look of a state title contender before the untimely playoff exit. This season’s Panthers don’t have the same firepower that group did, but they are intense competitors.

“They just wrestle hard,” coach Forrest Blake said. “That’s the biggest thing. The guys last year wrestled hard, too. They had a lot of experience, but this team is just really solid without a whole lot of holes from top to bottom.”

This team also includes athletes who waited patiently behind last year’s starters for one or two seasons.

“They’re just getting a chance to shine now,” Blake said.

So far, that’s exactly what his team has done. The Panthers have lost just two matches and both of those came against out-of-state teams during a tournament in North Carolina. In statewide competition, and particularly in the region, the Panthers have still been the team to beat.

“We’ll be four-time region champs this year,” senior captain Noah Sritan said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Although the team is doing well in the region, Sritan acknowledged there is room for improvement.

“We’ve still got some talent,” he said. “But just not where we needed to be.”

Ashworth agrees, though he said his coach is changing that. Blake is in his second year as the team’s head coach and his fourth year with the wrestling program.

“Coach Blake definitely knows what he’s doing,” Ashworth said. “He knows how to get some guys that aren’t very experienced to learn the basics. He’s really good at starting new wrestlers off.”

Nevon Tyler is one of those up-and-coming wrestlers. The sophomore, who played defensive end for the football team, dabbled in wrestling last year but wasn’t committed. That changed this winter. He said his teammates are equally devoted to the program.

“I enjoy the passion people have for it,” he said. “It’s much harder than football.”

That attitude has helped Carolina Forest dominate local competition.

“Our region isn’t bad,” Ashworth said. “As our seniors start to age out, other guys step up.”

Photo by Charles D. Perry/myhorrynews

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