With fresh faces helming the programs at River Ridge, Sequoyah and Etowah, each new coach seems to be facing the same challenge — earning the trust of their wrestlers.
As the third coach in four years at River Ridge, Joseph Mullinax has found that recruiting students for the team has proven difficult due to the high turnover of the coaching staffs.
“When I would ask students in the hall if they would be interested in wrestling, the big response I got was, ‘No thanks. I don’t want to because I don’t know who will be coaching us next year,’” said Mullinax, who wrestled at Cherokee for three years. “Consistency is something our wrestlers aren’t used to. We’re trying to convince them that we are going to be coaching here for a good time frame.”
Mullinax will rely on a large crop of sophomores and juniors, which include Noah Smith, Luke MacKenzie, Kwofi Jackson, and Lenard Jones, to lead the team.
Etowah coach Charles Higdon has run into the same trust-based issues as Mullinax.
“Our biggest challenge has been trying to get the kids to buy into the program that we are giving them,” said Higdon, a former high school All-American who has 13 years of coaching experience. “We are working to build trust between the staff and our athletes. We are trying to build a culture and a way of doing things, and in doing so, we have taken some steps backwards, and we need to be going forward.”
Returning for the Eagles will be senior Maveric Rechsteiner, who placed at state last year.
Perhaps the coach with the most rebuilding to do will be Sequoyah’s James Sanchez.
“We have a low number of kids this year, and we don’t have very many returning, so there will be a large learning curve,” said Sanchez, who only has 12 students on his roster so far. “Getting kids to come out for a sport that isn’t considered a top-tier sport like basketball or football is tough.”
With football still ongoing, Sanchez and assistant coach Chuck Childress hope to see an increase in their numbers once the season ends.
Lance Riccio, in his first full season at Cherokee after taking over Wayne Otto during the 2011-12 season, hopes a new training regimen and more active tournament schedule will help his team to improve.
“The biggest challenge for us has been getting our kids to understand the level at which we want them to compete at in every practice and every day,” Riccio said.
Riccio will benefit from the return of two-time state-placer Blake Walker, as well as state-qualifiers Brady Sandercock, John Metcalf and Andrew Torrence.
One program that will benefit from a returning coach and a strong group of seniors is Creekview.
Led by Wyatt Wilkie, who is entering his third year as the Grizzlies’ coach, Creekview will see the return of state-placer Michael Edwards, as well as state-qualifiers Hunter Udall, Joseph Sorrentino and Cullen Castle.
“I am very excited for this year,” said Wilkie, who previously shared coaching duties with Kevin Higgins before Higgins’ promotion to athletic director. “I have high expectations for the team, but they also have some high expectations for themselves. They have some high goals that they have set, and they are working hard to reach them.”
Also returning for his third year is Woodstock coach Michael Powell.
Though the Wolverines only have two seniors currently on their roster, they boast more than 40 wrestlers overall and will be fielding one of the largest squads in the county.
“We are still really young, but we also have a stronger team than ever before, with experience and depth,” Powell said. “Our program had continued to grow tremendously.”
Key wrestlers for the Wolverines will be junior state-qualifier Tristan Watson and senior and two-time state-qualifier Wes Pella, the Region 5AAAAA champion last year at 285 pounds.