Undergoing a youth movement and being hit with a number of injuries, the Princeton High wrestling team has taken more than its share of lumps this winter.
As PHS head coach Rashone Johnson has guided his team through its rocky road, he feels that this year’s struggles will pay dividends in the long run.
“These growing pains will help us for the future,” said Johnson. “We have gained toughness; we have had to build and rebuild. I am hoping that by going through this now we won’t have to go through this in the future. Some of the injuries are out of your control, that is the nature of the sport. But what you can help is the readiness for the season. They need to train to start, believing that they will be one of the guys whose number is going to be called.”
The numbers worked out well for PHS last week as it posted a 50-20 win at WW/P-N in improving to 3-12.
“I definitely feel like that was a good step; we needed it,” said Johnson, reflecting on the February 5 victory which saw Will Meisel (138 pounds), David Klinges (170), and James Gate (182) each win by pin with Patrick Sockler (126) posting a technical fall. “With the injury-laden season, we have had a run of just falling short.”
In Johnson’s view, senior star Klinges, who has wrestled most of the season at 160, is putting together a fine last run and should be a factor at the upcoming district competition.
“Klinges has given everything he has, he is battle-tested,” said Johnson. “This year, 160 has been a wide-open weight class. He took fourth in the districts last year so he has a better idea of what to expect. I am looking for him to be at regionals, I think he is picking it up and peaking at the right time.”
Another senior, Will Harrison, has picked things up considerably over his PHS career.
“If you had the opportunity to see him as a freshman and what he is like now, it is night and day,” said Johnson of Harrison, who was recently named as the winner of the Gary Dambro Excellence Award, which goes to a county wrestler who shows courage and determination throughout the season.
“He couldn’t chew gum and walk straight at the same time. The biggest area of progress is confidence. His confidence has been a huge area of progress. I don’t mean on the mat but how he carries himself in school and in his life.”
Johnson is looking for a trio of sophomores, Patrick Sockler, Thomas Miers, and Victor Bell, to carry the team in the future.
“Patrick and Thomas have both done well, they have had their moments,” said Johnson.
“I feel they both just need to be more consistent. Unfortunately Bell had to sit out last week due to injury. He is going to be solid; I am expecting big things from Victor Bell.”
In Johnson’s view, PHS could do some big things over the next few years.
“We have been a senior, upperclassmen team and the underclassmen could enjoy life and have a good time on JV,” said Johnson, whose team hosts Burlington Institute of Technology on February 13 before competing in districts.
“The upperclassmen now are sophomores and juniors. These guys are still learning how to wrestle. They know a lot of wrestling moves, they just have to put things together. We are going slow and steady as we try to improve.”