APEX — Apex wrestling coach Ross Little would be the first to admit that this hasn’t been a banner season. In fact, it’s been downright forgettable so far.
Entering Wednesday’s dual match against Middle Creek, the final team match of the regular season for both teams, the Cougars were winless in the Tri-9 Conference.
“It’s been a weird year,” Little said. “We lost a lot of people and we didn’t have a whole lot of people come out. Some of our guys that played football decided not to wrestle this year. So we’ve been shorthanded, especially in the upper weight classes. In some of our conference matches we’ve given up 36 points in forfeits. Head-to-head we’ve been pretty good, but you can’t win when you’re giving up 36 points a match.”
So finishing the dual season with a win was something Little and his team really wanted to do. And they did just that, with a decisive 50-21 victory over the Mustangs.
“Yeah, we really wanted to get one,” he said. “With all the stuff we’ve had to deal with this year, I’ve tried to keep the guys focused on their own individual matches. I’ve told them that the dual score was on me, not them. But it is nice to get this one.”
Chance Davis gave Apex an early lead when he took a forfeit at 113 pounds to start the match. Middle Creek’s Nicholas Gazzillo answered with a 4-0 decision at 120 pounds. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, he was just one of four to pick up a win on the evening.
Apex scored two falls, took a forfeit and won a couple of decisions in the next five bouts. Mark Crider, Joe Furtick, Sinjin Samaluk, Evan Arredondo and Daniel Krakowski all took home victories for the Cougars to push the team score to 32-3 and essentially seal the match.
Luke Uhlik scored Middle Creeks only pin of the match, taking care of his opponent in just one minute and 52 seconds at 160 pounds. The Mustangs other two wins for forfeits.
Jordan Woertman got a free win at 170 pounds for Apex, and Jake Castagnero and Farrell DiAnni each pinned his opponent at 195 and 220 respectively to close out the action.
With no state team dual tournament to look toward, the Cougars now shift their focus solely to the individual events – conference tournament, followed by the regionals and, if one qualifies, the states.
Castagnero and Fertick both qualified for the state tournament last season, but have both been hobbled by injuries this year. Castagnero, who took fifth at 182 pounds a year ago, has battled a turf toe problem since very early in the season.
“I don’t want to blame the toe if I struggle to accomplish what I did last season,” he said. “The biggest thing I have to do is continue to work on my conditioning. And yes, I’m working extra hard.”
Despite the injury, Castagnero, who is 15-1 so far, is still confident he can compete at the same level he did last season. Furtick’s injury was in the shoulder, which cost him six weeks of the season. He had similar conditioning concerns, but like Castagnero, he wasn’t ready to cash in this season just yet, especially since it’s his senior year. So far, he’s posted a 15-5 individual mark.
“I’m just going to work smarter than I did last year,” Furtick said. “That’s all. I’m more confident than I was then. I would be very disappointed if I didn’t get back to the state tournament.”
Two other Cougars, Davis and Arredondo, are looking to qualify for states for the first time. And according to Little, they’ve got a great shot.
“Evan’s a transfer from Fuquay-Varina and he’s improved tremendously this year,” Little said. “And Chance was just one match away from the states last year. So they definitely have their sights set on making it this year.”
For Davis, who is just a sophomore, this season has been about getting better and putting himself in good position heading into the individual tournaments. So far, he’s been able to accomplish that. After Wednesday’s win he is 40-5.
“I’ve definitely improved from last season,” he said. “I’ve still made some mistakes, but this year as a whole has gone a lot better.”
Arredondo’s position is a little different. He’s a senior, so this is last chance to reach that ultimate goal of qualifying for states.
Last year he came up just short, placing fifth at the regional tournament. He said the most important aspect he must control to get over that final hurdle is his mental approach, something he has worked hard on this season. Arredondo stands at 28-8.
“I feel confident, but I try not to look at records or opponents and psych myself out,” he said. “I just make sure I work hard and prepare. I go into every match expecting to win. It’s a mental thing I have to do if I want to accomplish my goals.”
All four begin their quest toward the state tournament this weekend at the Tri-9 Conference meet.