12/02/04 — Wrestling preview -- Bulldogs, Panthers begin first season

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Wrestling preview -- Bulldogs, Panthers begin first season

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on December 2, 2004 1:57 PM

PRINCETON -- "Roll 'em out!"

The command stirred excitement and anxiety when Princeton coach Terry Braswell and North Johnston coach Ben Williams began the first day of practice at their respective Class 1-A Carolina Conference schools.

It also started an educational experience for each program since the Bulldogs and Panthers are newcomers to the area wrestling scene.

"We had been going for about two weeks on some conditioning," Williams said. "That first official day we put the headgear on, rolled the mat out and went to work on some things.

"That really turned them on that day."

Williams welcomed 22 kids to the opening day of practice. Braswell has 14 in his camp.

The two coaches have been attending clinics and tournaments in the area, eagerly picking opposing coaches' minds about the sport. Each coach has absorbed a steady diet information through their contacts, particularly all the "little" details. That's not to mention visiting wrestling websites on the internet and ordering videos.

Williams and Braswell have worked on stances, techniques, takedown moves and counter-attacking moves. Most importantly, they've stressed conditioning.

"The boys are learning that six minutes is a long time on the mat with those two-minute periods," Braswell chuckled. "A lot of them thought they were in shape from football, but when it came down to it, a lot of them were sucking wind."

Princeton and North Johnston will benefit greatly from having two strong volunteer coaches on their staff. Matt Rast, a former standout grappler at Charles B. Aycock, is assisting Braswell. Mike Wickham, who wrestled in Ohio, is helping Williams.

Williams said he has three wrestlers who have some middle-school experience and a fourth grappler who has transferred from a Wilson-area school.

Meanwhile, Braswell has an Aycock transfer -- Kyle Harmon. Harmon, expected to be one of the team leaders this season, fared well in a junior varsity tournament contested this past weekend at C.B. Aycock.

The initial pieces of the puzzle are in place, which pleases both Williams and Braswell.

"We're practicing every day and learning basic stuff because they don't have any knowledge of it," Williams said. "The guys that I have coached in football, who don't play basketball, they absolutely love it -- the contact and aggressiveness.

"I'm hoping that will help our football program; maybe add another element of toughness to us."

Braswell didn't mention how many football players made the team. However, his roster of grapplers ranges from 78.8 pounds (freshman Gib Martin) to 305.6 pounds (junior Drew Wagner).

Braswell has at least eight of the 14 weight classes filled, and more than one wrestler in each upper weight class.

Princeton has wrestled a couple of dual matches, but got valuable experience at the Aycock JV tournament. Harmon, Justin Boyette, Jonathan Hartley and Baudelio Valadez each earned their first-ever medals for the Bulldogs. Harmon, Hartley and Valadez each claimed silver, while Boyette grabbed the bronze in his weight class.

"I was real pleased with that," Braswell said. "I actually learned what a tournament is like, but I didn't think it would be a day-long thing.

"We're hitting the basics kind of hard, but haven't started anything in the upper levels yet. Once we get the basics mastered, we'll move on."

Although the Bulldogs haven't wrestled a home match, Braswell said the team has received great support from the community.

So have the Panthers.

Martin Fleming, editor of The Takedown Report, donated $300 to the North Johnston program. Williams said the money will help cover entry fees for upcoming tournaments.

The Panthers open their season Friday evening at home against Carolina/Tar-Roanoke Conference members Durham School of the Arts and first-year program Louisburg.

"The community is excited as well. Had they had a wrestling program when I was here, I would have done it," said Williams, a 1993 North Johnston graduate. "A lot of people in the community feel the same way. There is more anticipation than anything because most of them have not seen a wrestling match before.

"The kids are excited and they've bought into the idea of having the sport. Our expectations for what we want to get accomplished is just to get through this year and learn about the sport itself -- what it involves and gain experience from the matches."

The addition of Princeton, North Johnston and Louisburg brings the total to seven teams in the Carolina/Tar-Roanoke 1-A Conference. The trio is joining Rosewood, now in its 12th season, perennial power Durham School of the Arts, Spring Creek and North Edgecombe.

Each team is scheduled to wrestle home and away during the conference season. They'll meet Jan. 29 for the season-ending C/T-RC tournament, which will be contested at Rosewood. The Eagles are the three-time reigning league champions.

Two teams will qualify, through regular-season competition, for the N.C. High School Athletic Association dual-team playoffs. Rosewood emerged the eastern regional runner-up in 2002 and 2003.