The injury bug hits almost every high school wrestling team, and coaches have no control over the timing. For Cary, its injuries came in December. For Athens Drive, they started snowballing two weeks ago.
That set the stage for an uneventful Southwest Wake Athletic Conference regular season finale between the two schools.
Cary, healthy again, defeated Athens Drive, who had to give up four forfeits, 55-21.
“The first month of the season, we were super excited about the season because we had this wealth of talent coming. Then, within the course of a week and a half, we had our four best guys sidelined. I think in retrospect, I’m happy that our team was emotionally strong enough to keep our eyes on the goal an think about the big picture. I guess if you have to experience that, it’s better in December than in February,” Cary coach Taylor Cummings said.
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Cary had four forfeit winners in Alex Zuniga (160), James Gressett (170), Joseph Rogers (220) and Tra Shaw (152). Joining them in the win column were Joe Grena (195, 10-2), Javon Jarrett (injury default), Reid Stewart (113, 4-1), Lucas Fryar (120, pin in 1:01), Will Clark (138, pin in 2:15), Kollin Wade (145, pin in 2:31).
Athens Drive winners were Youssef Aitboulahri (182 pounds, forfeit), Gabe Baragona (106, pin in 2:57), Omar Samara (126, 8-1), Trey Cornish (132, pin in 2:37).
Cary, Athens Drive and Panther Creek all tied for second in the SWAC at 5-2 in the league. The tie will be broken Thursday night, and a random draw is an option.
Athens caps record year
In three years, Athens Drive went from a team that was 0-14 to one that posted consecutive seasons of 19-20, 22-14 and 27-3 (5-2).
Even third-year head coach Sean Finkbeiner is amazed at the turnaround.
“Oh my gosh. It’s night and day. The kids’ focus determined their reality. They worked hard and they accomplished what no Athens team has done,”said Finkbeiner, adding that 27 wins is a new school record.
The Jaguars are ranked No. 5 in The News & Observer area.
“We have a great team. We have fun. That,” he said, looking over to Cary, “is a more serious team. We have fun as we get better. We’re not at that level yet (but) I’m hoping in a couple years.”
Cary bounces back from start
The Imps (29-3, 5-2) lost to Panther Creek while riddled with injuries, which – coupled with a loss to Holly Springs – put Cary in the three-way tie it’s in entering the postseason.
“We lost a couple of matches I think we could’ve won because of injuries and guys being out of the lineup. At this time of year, we have everyone back and are at our full potential. I think we can prove a point when state duals roll around next week,” Fryar said.
Ian Anderson, Cary’s 106-pounder, was unable to return from a concussion. Dylan Aubry, the team’s 132-pounder, should be back in a week to help with the dual-team tournament.
If Cary, ranked No. 2 in the N&O area, gets into the playoffs after the SWAC tiebreaker, it could only face Holly Springs in the 4A East final.
“I would like to see that match again, not for like a rivalry thing, but just to see where we match up when we’re healthy and they’re healthy,” Cummings said. “I feel like they have a really strong team, obviously, but I feel like we’re a little bit more of a team than we were a month ago.”
However, with state-ranked wrestlers like Clark, Wade and Zuniga, Cummings said his team could be more of a threat in the individual tournament.
“More realistically, we’re a much stronger tournament team,” Cummings said. “I think that’s when we put our chips in a hat and say ‘Listen, we can win the individual.’ We’ll see how far we can go in the team duals but we have a lot of individual goals and that can lead to the high finish or the top finish in the state.”