Smithfield: Sports

North Johnston, Princeton eye individual championship chase

High school wrestling postseason is right around the corner. Conference tournaments were held this weekend, followed by regionals and then the state tournament for those fortunate enough to advance that far.

For Princeton, its postseason hopes rely solely on individual potential. The Bulldogs wrapped up their regular season Wednesday by hosting Ayden-Grifton, North Johnston and Neuse Charter.

Princeton lost all three team matches mostly due to a lack of numbers. Holes throughout the lineup led to a number of forfeits.

“Earlier in the season we were more competitive as a team,” Bulldogs coach Terry Braswell said. “But injuries and people quitting the team has really hurt us. Team-wise we’ve really suffered, but on an individual basis we’ve done pretty well.”

Michael Daughtry, Princeton’s 132-pounder, has the most returning postseason success on the team. A state qualifier a year ago, Daughtry has posted a 29-12 record so far and his coach expects him to compete for the Carolina 1A conference championship and contend at the regional tournament.

It hasn’t been all positive for Daughtry this year, though. The junior suffered an early-season injury, but has battled through it.

“Michael’s healthy again,” Braswell said. “I expect him to do very well.”

At 145 pounds, Nick Phillips has a chance to surprise some people at the conference tournament, according to Braswell. Phillips is a junior, but it’s his first-year on the wrestling team and so far he’s 12-12 and trending in the right direction at the right time.

“If Nick has a good night (at the conference tournament), anything is possible,” Braswell said.

Princeton potentially suffered another loss due to injury Wednesday in the final match of the night. Luke Brush, a freshman at 106 pounds, couldn’t finish his match against Ayden-Grifton because of a shoulder injury. Brush stands at 29-6 on the season, but his status going forward is uncertain.

North Johnston finds itself in a little different situation headed into the Eastern Plains 2A Conference tournament this weekend. Where Princeton lacks numbers, the Panthers are missing experience.

“We’ve had a few injuries, but our main issue is experience,” third-year coach Jonathan Hartley said. “We’ve got 20 kids on the team, but only four of them had ever wrestled at all before the season started.”

As a team, North Johnston went 2-1 on Wednesday knocking off Princeton and Neuse Charter with its three most experienced wrestlers leading the way. Cody Jones, the Panthers’ 195-pound junior, recorded a pin and took two forfeits to go 3-0 in his matches to push his team-best overall record to 25-10.

Ethan Williams and JoJo Richardson were also perfect on the evening. Williams, a junior heavyweight, pinned all three of his opponents and improved to 21-8 on the season.

“Ethan has really improved a lot this year,” Hartley said. “And I attribute a lot of that improvement to his workout partners. We’ve got three big guys who work together in practice and they really push each other hard.”

Richardson is just a sophomore at 126 pounds, but his three wins Wednesday pushed his record over .500 to 10-9. According to Hartley, Richardson’s best attribute mimics that which defines his team as a whole.

“JoJo never gives up,” Hartley said. “He just keeps rolling around until he eventually ends up on top. That’s kind of how we are as a team.”

Hartley didn’t project any postseason championships for anyone in his group this season, but he’s certainly pleased with the direction they’re heading.

“We fight hard. I tell our guys, ‘I don’t mind if you lose, as long as you lose fighting.’ I’m happy with them as long as they don’t give up. And you can see that when our guys wrestle. We never just lay there. We keep fighting to roll over when we get put on our backs.”