Washington rolls into conference competition

Published 6:03 pm Monday, December 7, 2015

ZACHARY MORGAN II | TIMES-LEADER EARLY STANDOUT: Jacob Smith grapples with an Ayden-Grifton wrestler earlier in the season. Head coach Chris Penhollow said he has been one of the Pam Pack’s standouts thus far.

EARLY STANDOUT: Jacob Smith grapples with an Ayden-Girfton wrestler earlier in the season. Head coach Chris Penhollow said he has been one of the Pam Pack’s standouts thus far.


An early-season stumble at Havelock has not set back Washington wrestling from dominating its competition thus far. The Pam Pack lost, 36-30, to the 3-A powerhouse back on Nov. 18, but has torn through the rest of their competition.

Since then, they have topped the likes of Rose, C.B. Aycock, Conley, South Central and many more. They’ve kept busy and have plenty of experience heading into Wednesday’s 2-A Eastern Plains Conference opener at North Johnston.

The Pam Pack’s most recent outing was Wednesday at North Pitt for the 24th annual Pierce-Davis Memorial Tournament. Four representatives placed third or higher in their respective weight classes.

Andrew Ferguson placed third in the 195-pound division. He won his first two matches before First Flight’s Carlos Martinez defeated him by fall in the semifinals. Ferguson went on to win out in the consolation bracket to earn third.

At 106 pounds, Marcus Sneed made it all the way to the first-place match, where he also fell to a First Flight representative. Arien Leigh won the match via 6-2 decision.

Jacob Smith placed second in the 113-pound weight class. He fell to Holly Springs’ John Lehr in the first-place match.

Heavyweight Neill Jennings also placed second. He enjoyed a first-round bye and went on to defeat First Flight’s Jonathan Pharr by fall in just 20 seconds. He won his quarterfinal and semifinal matches by decision. He lost the first-place match to Rosewood’s Kaleb Taylor by 4-0 decision.

The tournament was Washington’s last stop before its foray into conference competition. It provided the wrestlers a chance to square off against some top-notch talent.

“I’m really pleased with what I’m seeing. It’s good to go to some of these matches and lose close ones,” said head coach Chris Penhollow. “It kind of motivates the guys. They need to keep working. There are people out there that can beat them. We got a good dose of humility on Saturday. I expect we’ll have a good practice.

“No body likes to lose. We had a couple of guys come in that were undefeated. When they lose that first one, it’s tough. They have a little time to cool down. I told them ‘This is the time you need that to happen.’ We’re looking at February. Obviously, we care about all of these matches, but if we’re going to take a loss and learn about it, let’s do it now.”

Repeating as conference champions has always been the goal. A strong showing will be the first step in reaching that objective.

“Defending our conference championship is our No. 1 priority,” Penhollow said. “I told the guys Saturday on the way home after we finished up the tournament that we take the first step on Wednesday. You can’t win the whole thing if you don’t win the first one. I think they’re pretty focused. They understand what’s at stake. We’ll travel to North Johnston and hopefully take care of business on Saturday.”

The Pam Pack have 10 of their 14 wrestlers back from last season’s squad. Each of them is starting this year and they know what it takes to earn the title.

“It’s good to have numbers back. They know what to expect,” Penhollow said. “They help bring along the guys that are kind of brand new. This is a pretty mature group I’ve got. They know that if we’re lazy or not ready to go, we can lose any night just like anybody else. They’re fired up.”

Penhollow said the newer wrestlers have been developing nicely early in the season. They’re aided by the plethora of skilled wrestlers they practice with. The entire roster is still coming together in some places, but he expects the lineup to be solid throughout pretty soon.

Penhollow has been inspecting opponent rosters from their last matches. He expects Wednesday to run smoothly should everyone make weight.