With football season now in the rearview mirror and all of his wrestlers out on the mat, Winder-Barrow coach Matt Patton expects to have a full squad for the rest of the season. And at the same time, he’s been encouraged by the performance of his team to this point as the Bulldoggs return several wrestlers with experience.
“We’ve been pretty competitive and had multiple kids place,” said Patton, whose team finished fourth out of 18 teams last weekend in a tournament at Walnut Grove and had four varsity wrestlers place in their weight classes.
Senior Rosseau O Asu Abang was the tournament champion at 195 pounds, while senior Nate Allen took second place at 182, Christopher Walker took second at 132 and Hunter Southern was third at 160.
“From where we started off a couple years ago to now, we have kids with experience who have been around the program a couple years, and now we have a chance to put that knowledge and the ‘want to’ on the mat together,” Patton said. “If we can keep everybody healthy and keep doing what we’re doing now practice-wise, we can be pretty good. They all have that mentality of wanting to be the best kid in the room and pushing each other. If we’ve got guys buying in, in all 14 weight classes, we’ve got a decent shot to do something this year.”
Asu Abang, who was ranked third in the state in the preseason, leads a key group of returners after winning the GHSA Area 8-AAAAAA title at 195 pounds and winning a couple of matches in the state tournament as a junior last winter. And along with Allen, Walker and Southern, Mason Bell (106 or 113), Grant Frederickson (145), Thomas Carbaugh (152), Chaz Furm (170) and James Hardigree (220) are also back.
The Bulldoggs also have a key newcomer in junior Jacob Merrifield at 285 pounds. Merrifield, a standout defensive end on the football team who also played basketball for Winder-Barrow in previous years, came out for wrestling over the summer and has performed well, Patton said.
“He competed against some top guys who had a lot of varsity experience and held his own,” Patton said of Merrifield. “He’s new to the sport, but he’s strong and powerful, and with his strong work ethic, he’s got a competitive edge that’s really going to help us.”
The Bulldoggs were scheduled to travel to Apalachee for a dual meet Wednesday, Dec. 11 and will compete in the Cherokee Bluff Duals on Saturday, Dec. 14. After four more appearances over the next month, they’ll compete in the area duals Jan. 11 and will look to qualify for the state duals the following weekend before moving on to the traditional tournaments.
“If we can stay healthy, we should have five or six guys get to state this year and should have at least three place,” Patton said. “And if everything goes like it should, I think we can make a run at top three in area duals. I’m just excited for the year. I hope we can all stay eligible, injury-free and go out there and leave it all on the mat.”