‘Mat Cats’ learn as they go

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Dan Finnerty

At just more than a third of the way through a 20-plus match season, including in- and post-season tournaments, Franklin High School (FHS) Wrestling Coach Coley Tyler’s wrestlers find themselves with mixed bags of growth and success.

In week three, sixth match of the season at the War Eagle Individual tournament in East Henderson, Dec. 2, the Lady Panthers fell to Pisgah, 42-0. Individually, junior Alexa Morales lost a close contest late after being up most of the match.

“Her wrestling was much improved and when her fitness catches up, she will be a very tough opponent for anyone in our conference,” said Tyler. “Freshman Katherine Lopez competed in her first match time of the season and conquered the fears and nerves that come with stepping out on the mat for the first time.”

On the boys’ side, while losing 78-6 to Pisgah, they righted the ship to win over Murphy, 36-30. 

Against Pisgah, junior Jeffry Casale was one bright spot for the Panthers. After getting pinned by the Black Bears’ Levi Early in the first period of the North Invitational in late November, Casale found himself again down, 12-5 to Early last Saturday. He did not give up, however, and “pulled out a late match pin of his own, stunning the visiting crowd,” according to Tyler.

“We coach and teach them to focus on elements within their control: Preparation, effort, attitude, and aggressiveness. If we continue to do that … we will see growth and improvement.”

Wrestling Coach Coley Tyler

Later in the tournament against Murphy with the score tied, freshman Branch Browning secured FHS’ first team win of the season. Tyler pointed out, “Branch didn’t let the gravity of the situation distract him from wrestling ‘in the moment.’”

Senior Miguel Diaz wrestled his best of the season, making it to the consolation semifinals (one victory away from placing).

“His fitness was much improved and when he wrestled simply and fundamentally sound, he wrestled well,” observed Tyler.

Following the outcome of their third full week of the season, Tyler admitted Panther wrestling remains inconsistent.

“But we are gaining valuable experience, which will hopefully help with this over time. Results take care of themselves when we take the initiative, are aggressive, wrestle to score, and are relentless.”

Earlier in the season, with losses to Enka, 30-18 (girls) and 46-24 (boys); plus Union County, Georgia, 66-6 (boys) in week one, Tyler admitted the FHS “Mat Cats” had a long way to go to be in wrestling shape.

“You have to compete against the best to experience top-level wrestling and to understand the process on how to reach that level.”

That first week, the Panthers scored most of their points early on and then wore down later in matches. Despite the setback in points/wins, the coach applauded his team. 

“Very proud of the way our kids wrestled,” he said. “We coach and teach them to focus on elements within their control: Preparation, effort, attitude, and aggressiveness. If we continue to do that the results will take care of themselves and we will see growth and improvement over the course of this season.”

Week-two brought renewed concerns on the part of the coaching staff, where the things exhibited positively in week one did not transcend to a short Thanksgiving second week. The girls’ team had exhibition matches against Robbinsville and TC Roberson Nov. 21. Morales notched her first win and, while only an exhibition, Tyler commented, “Those do a lot for a first-time wrestler’s confidence.”

Senior Lilly Whitesides battled against two seasoned and tough opponents at the Lady Knight Invitational, where she stood at 2-4 following the tournament.

The boys fell 61-18 to Robbinsville and 70-6 to TC Roberson. Accentuating the positive in an otherwise negative outcome, Tyler relayed that both matches were determined by “decision and major decision” –which in wrestling terms means a competitor wins by seven points or less (decision) or by 8-14 points (major), respectively.

FRANKLIN HIGH School wrestler Carson Smith attempts to pin his opponent in a recent match.

“So at least we didn’t get pinned in every match, but our wins were all forfeits as our opponents were missing wrestlers due to [the school] still being in the football playoffs.”

Additionally, FHS was 4-0 in overtime matches, which according to Tyler, “spoke to a couple of performances where our mental toughness, grit, and intestinal fortitude came through in the crunch.”

Overall, the coach saw too much regression from the first week to the second.

“We made a lot of very basic and fundamentally egregious mistakes. The kids are realizing that wrestling is not like other sports; what wrestling requires mentally, physically, and maturation-wise is on a different level from other sports,” said Tyler.