Pam Pack eager to start campaign

Published 4:50 pm Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Excitement is in the air as Washington’s wrestling season approaches. The Pam Pack travels to South Lenoir for a scrimmage on Nov. 12. Fike and Conley visit for a season-opening tri on Nov. 16.

Expectations are high for the defending 2-A Eastern Plains Conference champions. They didn’t lose much from last year’s group. The strong returning wrestlers, plus the influx of talent from a P.S. Jones team that went undefeated last season, leaves coach Chris Penhollow feeling quite confident.

However, with all but two wrestlers coming back from last year’s group, many of the incoming freshmen won’t slot into the starting lineup right away. There are a few, however, that will be asked to immediately fill holes.

Brodie Moore will be stepping right into the 106-pound role. Khyric McCloud may be able to slot in at the heavyweight vacancy left by Neill Jennings.

“Those two probably have the best shot of the freshmen, but there’s four or five other really good kids,” Penhollow said. “There’s nothing that they can do. There’s just somebody really good in front of them. They’ll get really good experience rolling around on the mat with the seniors I’ve got.”

The Pam Pack has four seniors leading the charge this season: Simeon Pope, Jacob Smith, Austin Coward and D.K. Credle. Smith was named the team’s most valuable last season, and Coward was tabbed as the most improved.

“They’ve been talking about it since last year,” Penhollow said of the Pam Pack’s four seniors. “It’s getting past the Croatans and the Dixons, and getting to the regional finals.”

Washington has built itself into one of the better 2-A teams in the east, but hasn’t quite gotten over the hump yet. Penhollow believes this year’s group has a shot at making that happen, which would be something special. The champion of the east region not only makes it to the state championship, but also earns the right to host it this year.

“That’s what we’re aiming for,” he said.

To get there, though, Washington will have to face the best competition it can find. Penhollow has always gone out of his way to schedule top-notch teams so that the Pam Pack is ready for the postseason. He’s ramping it up this year. After starting with Fike and Conley, things only get tougher as Washington will compete in tournaments like the “Beast of the East” at Croatan, and the WRAL Individual Invitational.

“We’re going to travel a little further to the central part of the state to get some tougher competition,” Penhollow said. “We got invited to WRAL this year, which is a two-day tournament in Raleigh. You have to be invited. It’s the first year we’ve ever been invited to that, I think.”

Washington has made internal strides to improve the program, too. With the completion of the new field house, Penhollow was able to turn the old football locker room into a wrestling facility. The team had previously practiced in the cafeteria, which required breaking down the tables and moving the mats into it for each practice. Having this room will save the team a lot of time.

Boosters helped provide the team with a used mat for the room so that the boys don’t have to haul mats to and from for matches in the gym. Penhollow said the school stepped up and provided wall padding for safety, too.

The Pam Pack will also be getting some help from former NCAA champion Carl Perry. As a wrestler for Illinois, Perry won the 2000 NCAA individual title at 141 pounds. He then went on to coach at Illinois. He moved to the area when his wife got a job at East Carolina University, and he serves as a campus pastor at Covenant Church.

“That’s an amazing gift,” Penhollow said. “… The guys are excited that he’s wanting to help out some. He’ll just be working with my upper elite guys.”

Individually, Penhollow thinks upwards of 10 Pam Pack wrestlers can qualify for states this season.

“I don’t think Washington has ever sent more than six or seven in a season,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of holes we’ve got to patch, but everything is looking great.”