After the East Wake wrestling team held its first wrestling practice on Oct. 29, head coach Brian Staples spoke about a buzz of excitement he felt in the air – not uncommon for the start of a new season.
Staples says the key to the Warriors’ success this winter is to maintain that enthusiasm level throughout the season.
“We start right here at the end of October, and we’ll wrestle all the way through to February. So it’s a long season,” Staples said. “And wrestling is a very physically demanding sport. Guys got to go through making weight, the rigors of practice. There’s going to be bumps and bruises and injuries along the way, so it really is a long, taxing season.”
The Warriors need exceptional leadership to remain upbeat throughout the winter. That’s no easy task for a team already down three leaders from the 2014 senior class: Morgan Wilder, Markus Mayner and Phillip Stone.
That’s where Staples’ son, Cody, steps in. Bumping up to the 126-pound weight class after competing at 120 pounds a season ago, the senior is prepared to fill the void left behind by the trio of graduates. The coach does not hesitate to name his son’s strongest quality as the very one his team needs.
“Leadership,” Staples said. “Not only on the mat, but in school as well.”
Cody Staples has the credentials to back up his father’s claim. Not only is this his fourth year in the Warriors starting lineup and third as a captain, but he’s also involved in student council, Beta Club and National Honor Society.
Staples admits there’s a lot on the shoulders of his son, who has been around the East Wake wrestling program since he was in sixth grade.
“I put a lot on him in the mat room and in the locker room,” Staples said. “He’s got a lot of responsibilities, but he handles it well.”
Cody’s not on his own, though. The Warriors have what Staples called “a good core group of veterans” returning this year. That group includes brothers Alston and Zach Willard, as well as Khadeem Dublin, Ryan Ackley and Tyler Barabasz.
The Willard brothers are a couple of the Warriors’ largest weapons. Staples envisions Alston wrestling at 182 pounds, with Zach anchoring the team as the 285-pound heavyweight.
“Both of them had good years last year,” Staples said. “Alston’s a senior and Zach’s a junior, so we’re looking for big things out of both of them.”
Dublin is an up-and-comer, expected to wrestle at 113 pounds this season after impressing last year as a freshman in the 106-pound weight class.
Ackley and Barabasz are returning starters in the middle weight classes, but the rest of the holes will have to be filled by newcomers.
“We’ll see how they turn out,” Staples said.
But looking ahead, the East Wake coach forecasts tough conference competition. He points out defending champion West Johnston as the team to beat. He then projects Knightdale as the probable preseason favorite to win it this winter.