04/12/07 — A Ngu champion: Aycock's Tran selected News-Argus wrestler of the year

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A Ngu champion: Aycock's Tran selected News-Argus wrestler of the year

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 12, 2007 2:34 PM

PIKEVILLE -- Kevin Smith carefully watched Ngu Tran from a corner of the Charles B. Aycock wrestling room.

Tran and assistant coach Robert Stallings stayed in the circle and neither appeared ready to make the first move. Tran stayed low and waited for his opportunity.

One quick sweep later, Tran locked Stallings' leg and took him to the mat.

Smith saw in awe.

Tran and Stallings broke the hold and circled the mat again. A few seconds passed before Tran took Stallings down a second time. At that point, Smith knew his strategy for the week would pay significant dividends as with the state finals just days away.

"He's ready," Smith, Aycock's head coach, said to fellow assistant Mark Bass.

Tran was.

The senior took the confidence he gained from wrestling with Stallings and carried it onto the biggest stage of his career -- the N.C. High School Athletic Association Individual Wrestling Championships. Tran competed in flawless fashion for two days and emerged the Class 3-A 125-pound champion -- the first in C.B. Aycock history and first state-title winner in Wayne County lore since 1992.

For his efforts, Tran has been selected the 2006-07 News-Argus Wrestler of the Year.

While Tran admitted his week-long workout with Stallings and other partners -- Ronald Lynn and Josh Overton -- proved beneficial, his motivation started long before his final prep season began.

Tran couldn't help but remember last year's title match against Morehead's Bobby Shanor. The Golden Falcon grappler stayed in control for five minutes and 53 seconds. But it was that final seven seconds that nagged at Tran and gnawed on his conscious for the next 365 days.

Shanor scored a match-clinching takedown and shattered Tran's dream.

"After I lost that match, I realized my endurance really wasn't that great," said Tran. "That's the only reason I trained so hard (in the offseason). I knew I needed to stay strong (this year) and not give up so easily."

Countless hours of running and sprinting helped increase Tran's stamina for his title run. Opponents couldn't counter his speed and Tran's flexibility allowed him to squirm out of tight spots.

Tran utilized his strength and constantly turned opponents to pick up quick points. A takedown usually led to a three-point nearfall and in many instances a pin.

"I don't like getting too tied up and if they get a tighter grip, it's usually hard for me to escape," said Tran. "I like to be loose, distant from them and when I see an open spot, I take a shot and sweep. I really think speed and technique played a big role in my style of wrestling.

"More than strength because strength can only help you so much."

Tran piled up numerous wins during regular-season action and won nearly every individual tournament in which he competed. The soft-spoken 125-pounder captured his third consecutive Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference individual crown and successfully defended his eastern regional championship.

But he wasn't done.

And Smith wasn't satisfied.

As the postseason wound down, Smith and his staff worked diligently to improve the wrestlers' endurance. Cardiovascular workouts on the stair climber and treadmill, along with laps in the YMCA pool, paid dividends.

"Winning a state title, to a large extent, is the individual's responsibility," said Smith. "But there is a huge responsibility as a coaching staff, too. We changed some things up over the last two weeks of the season to make sure from a cardiovascular standpoint that we were in the best shape we could be -- not only for him, but for the team as well.

"We wanted to make sure when he was in that situation again this year conditioning would not be an issue."

Nothing could pierce Tran's focus, however. He began his state-title quest with a 17-5 major decision over T.W. Andrews' Darius Hannah. Tran posted a 15-3 rout over St. Stephens senior Travis Paap, the western regional runner-up, later in the day.

The next morning, nearly every eye in the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum watched Tran's match against Luis Ramos. Ramos led Winston-Salem Parkland to the NCHSAA dual-team title and had won 76 matches on the season.

Tran got the early advantage and dealt the midwest champion a 3-0 loss.

Nervous, excited and anxious, Tran could hardly wait to take the mat against Southern Alamance senior and mideast regional champ Bradley Saunders. When the whistle blew to start the match, Tran bided his time and scored the initial takedown. He added a nearfall and led 5-0 after two minutes expired.

"We really felt like that early takedown put us in great position to win that match," said Smith. "Ngu took a little bit of a breath and calmed down a little bit. With that five-point lead, we knew he'd have to do something dramatic not to be in position to win that match."

Tran nearly pinned himself in the third period against Saunders, but eventually pulled off an 18-6 major decision. He became the 21st state champion in Wayne County history and first three-time state placer in the C.B. Aycock record books. Tran earned all-state recognition for the second consecutive season.

"My only thought was not to get turned and get pinned," laughed Tran. "I definitely felt a lot of pressure. My family was there for that final match and I didn't want to disappoint anybody."

Most of all, Tran didn't want to disappoint himself.