A new Columbia County squad debuts this week, as the Greenbrier High School wrestling team competes in a three-way match Friday at T.W. Josey High School.
Lakeside High School has an established wrestling program, and Evans High started a wrestling team three years ago, while the Wolfpack is beginning its first season in the sport.
"Coming in as underdogs, we really have nothing to lose," Greenbrier senior David Weitz said. "I don't think anyone will be embarrassed. We know what we're getting into, somewhat."
And just what is the Pack getting into, besides the standard-issue singlets worn in wrestling matches?
"In the first couple of matches we'll be nervous, but I think after a while we'll adapt," said Daniel Landon, a Greenbrier freshman with prior experience. He began wrestling while attending school in Charlotte, N.C.
Greenbrier athletes are keen, but the Pack also is green, according to wrestling coach Russell Scheider.
"The kids are real excited about competing and about having wrestling at Greenbrier," Schneider said. "Only five of 32 team members have wrestled, so we don't have much experience. It's my first year of doing this, too."
Schneider's approach has been similar to a student cramming for an exam - he's talked to local high school coaches, he's read books and watched videos, and he even sought some tips from college coaching legend Dan Gable.
Finding wrestlers wasn't a problem - Scheider recruited most of his team while coaching the Wolfpack football players this fall.
Weitz is one of the gridiron converts. After finishing up football season, he joined the wrestling team and had a rude awakening.
"I came out here and thought strength was going to be a bigger factor, but it's a lot more skill, quickness and training than it is strength," he said. "For the week I've been doing this, I realize you can't get out there and take out frustration on someone like you can on a football field. You've got to stay calm and focus on what you're doing."
On the Prowl
While the Greenbrier wrestlers are upstarts, the Lakeside wrestling program is in high gear.
Lakeside opened the 2001-02 season by beating Morgan County High School, the defending three-time Class AA state champions.
The Panthers followed with a second-place showing in the nine-team Black Cat Tournament last weekend. West Laurens High School scored 220 points to edge the Panthers by six in the double-elimination meet Saturday at Lakeside.
"Things look pretty good," Lakeside coach Randy Hill said. "We have some really young kids, but it looks like they've grown up. We have one or two holes in a couple of weight classes, but I've been impressed."
Lakeside began its wrestling program in 1995, and the Panthers won their first region championship in 2000. Although Butler claimed the region crown last season, Lakeside managed a second-place finish during a rebuilding year.
The Panthers have maintained a high level of performance by encouraging eight-graders to practice and compete before they become freshman at Lakeside. That, in turn, boosts the overall number of wrestlers on the team. This season Lakeside has 20 freshman on the squad.
"Most of the ninth-graders have never wrestled. If you teach them a little, they're as prepared as anybody," Hill said.
Apparently, Greenbrier wasn't prepared for the Black Cat. The Wolfpack was supposed to compete in Lakeside's event, but decided to skip the meet. Coach Schneider says his wrestlers needed more practice time, but coach Hill was still disappointed the Pack wasn't present Saturday at Lakeside.
"You learn the sport on two ways - during practice and in matches. Unless you're in competition you won't get any better," Hill said. "I remember competing in tournaments our first year; it was tough, but we jumped right in and tried to compete against the toughest teams."
Several Greenbrier wrestlers attended the Black Cat Tournament, in order to learn some nuances of the sport. The Pack will soon get a closer look at the Panthers - Greenbrier is scheduled to compete at Lakeside on Dec. 19.
"That gives us another rival, and that puts more people in the stands. That will be good for the sport," Lakeside senior Blaine Carter said of the upcoming clash.
Lakeside will be favored to pin the Pack, but Greenbrier plans to put up a fight.
"Coach has told us we've got to be ready and we can't be afraid of people," Greenbrier sophomore Eric Miller said. "You can't be scared of other teams just because they've got experience. We might be able to pull out some moves they aren't ready for."
Still, Greenbrier's on-the-job training will be brutal.
"We're going to take a pounding. They understand it's tough to get started, but I like to be optimistic. We'll aim high - we want to see some wrestlers make it to the state level," Schneider said. "It's going to be a learning year for us, but with the attitude and excitement our kids have, I think we'll be OK by February."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.