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Pirate wrestlers traveled to Farmington, N.M., Saturday, Dec. 21 to compete in the 10th annual Panther Classic tournament against 20 total 5A, 4A and 3A teams, most of which were from New Mexico.
As a team, the pirates won three dual matches — against Farmington, Shiprock and Kirtland Central — losing two, against Bloomfield and Ignacio. The Pirates lost to Ignacio by two points, much less than their last defeat — each team won seven matches apiece, but Ignacio won based on bonus points. Overall, the Pirates finished second in their pool.
The tournament was good experience for newer varsity wrestlers, and more seasoned competitors were able to face challenging opponents. The team filled lighter weights with younger athletes, many of whom had never wrestled at the varsity level before.
“It was good for the younger guys to get their feet wet. They did well even though they were wrestling against considerably more experienced opponents in many cases,” said coach Dan Janowsky.
Wrestlers of all levels also gained confidence and improved their personal wrestling skills over the course of the tournament. In an interview with The SUN, Janowsky explained that starting young wresters too early often causes them to lose confidence. It’s important to find a good balance, so young competitors both gain confidence and are challenged to improve their skills and mental toughness.
Overall, young Pirate wrestlers performed well during the tournament, winning some matches and scoring points for the team. Janowsky said it was good to get younger wresters competing on the mat, because it is important to fill weights and because the team will likely need to rely on them later in the season to score points, win matches, and succeed if and when more experienced wresters are unable to compete for various reasons. Gaining competitive experience also helps younger wrestlers improve as individuals and become an important foundation for the growth and continuation of the program.
Younger wresters in the lineup Saturday included freshman Nick Cronan at 106 pounds with two wins and three losses, sophomore Connor Bjork at 152 with three wins and two losses, sophomores Chance McReynolds and Caleb Drane both at 170 with one win and one loss, and two wins and one loss respectively, and sophomore Jaden Hinger at 220 who went two and two. Sophomores Tanner Schlom at 113 and Tyler Cowan at 146, who attended the Columbine tournament two weeks ago, also competed at the varsity level last weekend. The Pirates were unable to fill the 120-pound weight class.
Older, more experienced wrestlers also gained confidence and improved their skills last weekend. The team saw outstanding performances from junior David McRee competing at both 170 and 182, senior Micheal Mills at 132 and heavyweight senior Creede Wiley at 285 who all won five matches. Wiley pinned each of his five opponents during the first period to score his wins. Junior Alonso Hernandez at 195 also performed well, winning four and losing only one match. Junior J.C. Parsons was won three and lost two. Janowsky explained that McRee, Wiley, Mills and Hernandez wrestled consistently well all day.
“McRee is steady, consistent and relentless, and Wiley became more confident and aggressive in his attacks,” said Janowsky. “Mills and Hernandez also made big strides last weekend.”
The younger group of competitors also responded well to the competition and Janowsky was pleased with how they performed, recognizing that each wrestler prepares and competes as a unique individual. Competitors who are not new, but are not yet considered seasoned, are capable of stepping up and wrestling at even higher levels, according to Janowsky. As practices continue, wrestlers will focus on individual techniques and developing mental toughness that will help them maintain the discipline needed to beat opponents.
“In general, we wrestle well from the neutral position and when we start on the mat,” said Janowsky. “We struggle as a team when we start in the top position, even though that should be when we are in control.” Wrestling from this position will be the focus of at least one practice later this week.
Janowsky explained that wrestlers could lose matches two different ways — either their own mistakes cost them the match, or their opponents’ techniques beat them. According to Janowsky, many Pirate wrestlers are beating themselves with mistakes. Although frustrating, correcting this issue is entirely in the control of the pirates.
“It’s up to us to change that,” said Janowsky. “We have to work hard to improve our performance in the second half of the season.”
The Pirates took a break from practice early this week, but will continue practice during the later part of their winter break to prepare for upcoming matches.