Washington wrestling flexes its depth at beginning of season

Published 7:40 pm Tuesday, November 27, 2018

WASHINGTON — After his team’s first wrestling meet of the season on Nov. 15, Washington head coach Chris Penhollow said he thinks this year’s edition of the Pam Pack “is the best team that I’ve had in 14 years, top to bottom.”

Now, with a record of 10-2 after competing in two more meets since then and wrestling while shorthanded through the season’s first two meets, Washington has showcased the depth Penhollow was referring to and looks primed to vanquish all challengers moving forward.

With the Pam Pack football team qualifying for the playoffs this season, it meant Penhollow and the wrestling team would have to do without seven starters through the year’s first two meets on Nov. 15 and Nov. 17. In that time, the Pam Pack defeated the likes of North Pitt, which finished 23-6 last season and was knocked out of the 2018 2A dual team postseason tournament by Croatan, the same school that eliminated Washington last year and advanced to the state finals.

The Pam Pack also knocked off 3A schools in Southern Nash and West Johnston on Nov. 17, as well as D.H. Conley two days before. What makes defeating North Pitt, Southern Nash and West Johnston before losing to Fike in the final round of the meet on Nov. 17 even more impressive is the fact Washington wasn’t just missing the seven starters from the football team, but also Gavin Woolard, one of the team’s captains, and Zack Warren.

Despite losing to Fike twice already this season, it’s not something Penhollow is worried about, as the Demons are a talented 3A squad that finished 27-4 last season and the Pam Pack wasn’t anywhere near full strength.

“Even with those two out, finishing second like we did and losing to Fike in the championship match was about as well as I felt we could’ve done (on Nov. 17),” Penhollow said.

According to Penhollow, the fact that Washington hasn’t been at full strength hasn’t gone unnoticed by the opposition.

“(The coach) from Fike, he’s like, ‘I’m just glad I’m getting you know before you get your other guys in place.’ He said, ‘I know how strong you’re going to be,’” Penhollow said. “You’d love to have them from the beginning, but athletes are athletes and they’re involved in other sports and that’s just part of the game. If you’re going to drop one, do it early in the season, before you get your guys.”

The benefit of not having all his starters yet is it gave Penhollow a chance to give valuable experience to the newer members of the team. With 23 members on the squad, but only 14 starters, the first two meets were a great opportunity for Penhollow’s more inexperienced wrestlers to get a taste of competitive wrestling and work on their skills.

Penhollow said he couldn’t have been more pleased with how they performed and said they’ve done a “phenomenal” job.

“They’re competing hard, it’s brand new to some of them and there is kind of a learning curve,” the Pam Pack coach said. “I always tell kids, ‘Give it at least 20 matches so you can kind of get used to what it is we’re trying to do and get your body acclimated to what it is we’re doing.’ And like I said, those guys have stepped up and battled hard. They’re going to be solid additions.”

Nov. 21 marked the return of football players Mykel Warren, Walt Gerard, Braxton Cameron, Logan Nichols, Khyrik McCloud, Dylan Modlin and Adam Bonner to the team, and their impact was felt immediately. Taking part in a meet with five other schools at D.H. Conley, the Pam Pack thoroughly dominated Tarboro, Ayden-Grifton, Farmville Central, Greene Central and Conley, winning 62 out of the 70 individual matches and ending the day undefeated as a team.

First day back competing with all my football guys, so we were pretty well fully loaded,” Penhollow said. “Those guys only had one, two practices (before the meet), and then they were ready to roll, so I was really happy with what I saw out of my football guys. You know they’ve got to get in wrestling shape, which is a little bit different. But they looked solid and we were very, very pleased with what we saw.”

What should cause Washington’s future opponents worry is the fact the Pam Pack has room for improvement. The wrestlers who just rejoined the wrestling team are only going to improve as they transition from the gridiron to the mat, and Penhollow said he constantly takes notes during matches and noticed things to work on, even as his team mauled its foes its last time out.

Washington will also continue to work on its impressive depth, with its nine wrestlers who haven’t cracked the starting lineup. Penhollow said he gets them as many opportunities as he can, including JV tournaments.

“We do get some events so that they will get some time,” Penhollow said. “And then we throw in exhibitions whenever we show up and somebody’s got extra kids around the same weight class. We’ll get those kids some exhibition matches just so that they can get some mat time.”

The Pam Pack returns to the mat from Thanksgiving break today when it travels to New Bern for a tri-meet with the Bears and West Carteret. The action is set to start at 6 p.m.