Wrestling coaches, like those in most other sports, like to talk about fundamentals. For the Lincolnton Wolves wrestling squad, fundamentals take on a whole new meaning.
Lincolnton is the only high school in the county that has students feeding into it who had no opportunity to wrestle at the middle school level, meaning that young wrestlers for the Wolves are built essentially from the ground up. The West Lincoln Rebels (16-9) fall on the other side of that same coin, with a very strong middle school program and a youth wrestling program that bring unparalleled talent to the Rebel roster.
The Rebels opened Southern Piedmont Conference meets on Thursday at North Lincoln with a 62-18 win, while the Wolves travel to East Lincoln today for their first conference meet.
â€œWhen you have kids coming in without any experience, freshmen and sophomores are going to struggle,â€ Lincolnton head coach and former West Lincoln wrestler Brent Gates said.
â€œUnless you have a team full of juniors and seniors youâ€™re not going to have a stellar, unbelievable win-loss record.â€
West Lincoln head coach Butch Ross and athletic director Wayne Navey, both former West Lincoln wrestlers themselves, run Top Dawg Wrestling, a youth wrestling program that has helped bolster the already strong West Lincoln wrestling community.
â€œWeâ€™ve got so much community support; former wrestlers bring their kids back and help out, and thatâ€™s helped us to be as successful as weâ€™ve been,â€ Ross said. â€œOur guys may be young, but they work hard and because they start so young, once they get to me they already know the basics.â€
Ross is in his 33rd season as a coach at either West Lincoln Middle School or the high school, and said he understood his former athleteâ€™s frustration with Lincolnton Middle Schoolâ€™s lack of a wrestling program.
â€œThat makes things really tough for Coach Gates,â€ he said. â€œHe has the athletes, but if he could get them wrestling younger he could have a really good program.â€
Although Gatesâ€™ wrestlers may not have skills at an advanced level, working with a clean slate may offer its own advantages.
â€œIt sounds bad, but you have to teach them almost at a middle school pace, you just have to focus on bare fundamentals,â€ Gates said. â€œBut thatâ€™s not necessarily a bad thing. Some of the best wrestlers Iâ€™ve ever seen will win an individual state championship using basic fundamentals. Itâ€™s like any other sport; if youâ€™re fundamentally solid youâ€™re going to be fine.â€
The Wolves begin Southern Piedmont Conference 1A/2A action today at East Lincoln, and hope to improve on their 9-11 nonconference record. Lincolnton has four seniors on its roster, three of whom started during each of the three previous seasons; a couple of juniors and a slew of young athletes.
â€œBut we donâ€™t have a lot of freshman, so unfortunately I donâ€™t see us having that squad full of seniors someday,â€ Gates said. â€œBut the guys I do have, the freshmen and sophomores, are all very athletic. So if they stick it out, they will be pretty good athletes. I would love to see us go 24-3 as a team, but until I get a lot of young guys coming out all at once itâ€™s not going to be an option.â€
Gates said starting a program at Lincolnton Middle School has been discussed in the past, but that nothing has been done to get the program implemented.
â€œItâ€™s been talked about a lot, and I donâ€™t know why there isnâ€™t one already,â€ he said.
â€œHow good would our other sports be if we didnâ€™t have middle school programs? Lincolnton has better athletes walking in the halls than most other schools, and if we could get a middle school program established they would be pretty hard to handle. It shows the kind of kids that I have, to have as little experience as they do and still wrestle the way they do.â€