The PHS wrestling team won its first conference championship in over a decade by edging out West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South to win the Colonial Valley Conference title. The boys attribute their championship to their intense work ethic. “[The goal] is being able to work hard and work smart at the same time,” said Head Coach Rashone Johnson. “More [work] isn’t always better, [and having] that balance … is [key].”
This year, Johnson focused on new techniques and different pinning combinations to bring the athletes to their maximum potential by increasing repetitions rather than moves. According to Johnson, “The more [repetitions] that you do, … the more likely you are to hit [your opponent] off of instinct. You’ll have [the technique] as part of your DNA.”
The team members also hoped that these changes would allow them to do their best within the CVC tournament, which rounded off the entire season. “The [goal] is always the same—just to try to get everybody to reach their full potential,” Johnson said. “If that nets us a division title, that’s great, [or if it] finesses the state playoff berth, that’s great [too].”
Johnson has been pleased with the results of the team’s efforts this season, especially in comparison to those of past seasons. The team’s record stands at 9–12–1 for dual meets, including a 46–30 win over Steinert that earned them the CVC division title on February 14. “[The wrestling] already has been an improvement from last year,” Johnson said. “This past season, we had three finalists [and] seven guys in the [semifinals], which is the most we’ve ever had. The training is making a difference.”
“[Winning the CVC] means a lot to [Johnson] and our team,” said Co-Captain Victor Bell ’15. “We were prepared. We’ve been lifting and wrestling and practicing all year, even in the off-season.”
For Co-Captain Thomas Miers ’15, who is currently ranked second in the MCT at 138 pounds, the line between winning and losing essentially comes down to endurance and confidence. “For me, it’s just a matter of wrestling the best kids in the practice room [as well as] trying to just keep pushing myself,” he said. “Once you reach the higher level … everyone is going to have a good gas tank.” Miers also gained the district championship title at the District 17 tournament on February 21.
In order to succeed as a team, Johnson emphasizes the importance of a simultaneous peak, especially in a sport that depends on both the athletes as individuals and the team as a whole. “The goal is … to try to get everybody to reach their full potential at the same time. That’s one of the hardest things in coaching,” Johnson said.
Senior tri-captains Bell, Miers, and Patrick Sockler ’15 encourage all of the athletes, both newcomers and veterans, to perform at their best. Each in his fourth year of wrestling for the PHS Little Tigers, Miers, Bell, and Sockler hoped to finish the season strong and set a standard for the younger athletes. “Our goal [was] to finish with a winning record and … make sure all the guys [stay] positive because it is a really long season,” Miers said.
“[The captains] are like our role models. We want to be like them, not just in terms of wrestling, but also … as leaders. They show by example what [kind of athletes] we are striving to be,” said Ethan Guerra ’17, who currently wrestles in the 195-pound weight class.
The athletes foresee that the departure of the captains as well as the rest of the senior wrestlers will be an obstacle that the team will have to work to overcome next year. “They’re all great wrestlers, and they are all fun guys to hang out with, too,” said Dave Beamer ’16, who wrestles at 170 pounds.
“[The captains] are doing a great job,” said James Verbeyst ’17, the second seed in the Mercer County Tournament at 126 pounds. “The team is really close right now, and it’s just a lot of fun every practice to be there. I train with [Miers and Sockler] a lot to get better.”
Ranked sixth in the CVC as of February 2, the program is excited to see that the amount of incoming freshman is expected to match the amount of outgoing seniors in terms of both quantity and skill. “For the amount of seniors that we’re having leave next year, we’re having an almost equal amount of freshmen come in, and a lot of the freshmen show a lot of potential for next year … they’ve [already] been showing lots of improvement,” Guerra said.
“We’ll keep moving forward next year,” Johnson said. “The best thing that these seniors can do is lead by example so that [the underclassmen] know what to do next year when [the seniors] are gone, by seeing what their work ethic was like and how they were as leaders in their own right.”
However, being a part of a team includes taking training and competition day by day and avoiding looking too far ahead. “The guys are looking ready, [and] they seem hungry to keep doing better,” said Johnson. “We’ll have to see how we can build off of a strong county tournament showing into the [seasons to come].”