LINCOLNTON — Lincolnton High School’s wrestling program is headed in the right direction.
The team had nearly 60 athletes come out for the team this year, the biggest numbers in recent history “by far,” head coach Brent Gates said.
“It helped getting football players out and it helped getting soccer players out,” Gates said.
“We’ve had a few years of success. You’re not great, but you’re not finishing last in the conference either. They make the connection that, ‘if I do this I’m going to get better, I’m going to be a little bit stronger in football. I’m going to be a little bit faster on the soccer field.’”
The depth of this year’s team has brought competition for a starting position to a higher level.
“If you have a wrestle-off or you have a bad practice or you miss a practice, you’ll come back the next day and you’re not starting anymore,” Gates said. “You have to work to get back.”
Lincolnton senior captain Chad Smith, who Gates said is the most experienced member of the team as a four-year varsity starter, boasts the best record on the team at 24-4 in the 152 lb. weight class and has seen the team grow to a legitimate contender in the Southern Piedmont Conference.
“When I first got here it wasn’t popular at all,” Smith said. “It wasn’t well known for anything. But then over the years it’s been growing like other sports out here. We’ve been progressing as a whole. I’d like to see us win the conference. It’s a possibility; we have a strong team.”
Senior captain Hunter Cline wrestles in the 285 lb. weight class and has a 24-6 overall record — second best on the team.
“I’ve never seen a team this complete,” he said. “We have guys at every position, battling. We push everybody that much more. If the starter isn’t the best for the job this year, the guy behind him will beat him out. This might be our year.”
The Wolves have a 14-16 overall record and a 1-0 Southern Piedmont Conference record and have five matches left in the regular season, including the bulk of their conference schedule. They host West Lincoln today at 7 p.m. for Senior Night.
“A lot could happen,” Gates said. “West Lincoln is West Lincoln — you never know. They’re always great. You have to bring you’re A-game to beat those guys. They’re always well prepared.”
The Wolves and Rebels have met once this year in a nonconference match at the Adam Benson Memorial Tournament at East Burke High School on Dec. 28. The Rebels won 53-30, with the Wolves taking individual wins in five of the 14 weight classes, including wins by both Smith and Cline.
“From my first year until now, these teams have gotten a lot better,” Gates, a 2004 West Lincoln graduate, said. “It’s great. In the past we’d go into it knowing we had some boys who would win and some boys who would lose. Now you have a legit chance to have a good season.”