Vets and rookies come together for IR's wrestling success

Last year, the varsity wrestling team at Indian River struggled to find their footing. This year, they’ve taken everything in stride, resting atop a 7-1 regular season record and going perfect against division opponents. Whether it’s the returning wrestlers who have devoted years to the mat since enrolling at Indian River or the newcomers who hadn’t seen any varsity time prior to this season, there’s no denying that the Indians are poised to make a run for the conference title in the schedule’s final month.

This past Wednesday, Jan. 6, the Indians took a strong 49-21 win over division contenders from Delmar. A few early forfeits worked in IR’s favor, as it helped them get out to an early lead behind wrestlers Antonio Gonzalez (119 pounds), Chris Smith (130 pounds) and Brian Richardson (135 pounds), who each recorded falls to pad the Indians’ lead. Delmar answered back with narrow consecutive decisions and a fall, but they couldn’t keep up with the power the Indians had waiting in their higher weight classes.

Matt McDowell (171 pounds) won his bout for the Indians thanks to a 20-9 major decision. Darontay Turner (189 pounds) accompanied that with a 3-0 decision win, and Devon Showell (215 pounds) and Katteem Harmon (285 pounds) each followed up with falls over their Delmar counterparts in less than three minutes.

“It was a really great match for our program,” said Indian River head coach Jeff Windish. “We came out on the good side of a fair share of them, and even though we lost a couple, I think they will benefit us, overall.”

Delmar had given the Indians little problems in years past, and Windish understood that his team would have to come prepared.

“Delmar came ready to wrestle,” he stated. “[Head coach] Justin [Bradley] had them up, and had a few of us on our back. That’s definitely something we want to avoid doing, but things like that are important to see early in the season. It shows our guys where they need to improve and reminds them not to get sloppy.”

Names such as Gonzalez and McDowell are familiar to the Indian River lineup, as these athletes have been putting year after year into the program on the mat, bringing a mindset and composure to each and every bout.

“These guys are really our leaders,” said Windish. “They know how to lead the team. Antonio [Gonzalez] is hot right now. He’s in the zone. With 11 wins and 10 of those being pins, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

But, for Windish, sometimes the most satisfaction comes from those who have really shown improvement and development since their start.

“Chris Smith and Brian Richardson really stepped up for us at Delmar,” he noted, “and gave us that one-two punch in the middle weights. We have some young kids in the lineup, but every week, they’re getting better.”

Few of the senior wrestlers on this year’s team have competed at the varsity level since their freshman year, and nearly half of the lineup is made up of ninth- and 10th-graders.

“If there is one drawback to this season,” said Windish, “it’s that we have some inexperience, but every match, the kids know that if they give 100 percent, I’m not going to be disappointed.

“What we need to do is take a loss we may have and learn from it. I have a very cerebral bunch of kids,” he explained. “They can recognize what they are doing wrong and come in here at the next practice and start working on it. They have to want to get better. From a coaching standpoint, those are things I can’t do myself. I can show them techniques, but they have to want to apply them and get better.

“These guys – the Max Wilkinsons, Matt Selbas, Chris Smith, Brian Richardson – they are working at every practice to get better, and you can see that. Darontay Turner has also done a great job at getting back to the mat and improving every time.”

One of the Indians’ true standouts is freshman Rashaun Odom, who not only is new to the Indian River varsity roster this year but is taking to the mat for the first time, ever.

“I really can’t say enough about Rashaun,” noted Windish. “He’s a first year-wrestler, and right now, he’s sitting at winning record at 6-5. As a first-year wrestler at the varsity level, that’s saying something. I’ve been really pleased with his performances.”

Stepping into a new sport can be a task, and paired with the stress of being a freshman competing among juniors and seniors, the experience can be intimidating.

“It was tough at first,” said Odom, “but as we go, our coaches are really helping us. They keep telling us to wrestle smart, so that’s what I do. You have to give it everything you have.”

As one of the younger, lighter wrestlers, the spotlight is often on Odom early in the matches, which can add a little extra pressure to his performance.

“It’s important for the guys to g first to wrestle well and get a win,” he said. “That usually gets us pumped up. It sets the tine if you get an early win.”

Odom may be one of the smallest guys on Indian River’s team, but his heart and determination are right up there with the rest.

“Every match,” he said, “I’m in it to win it. It doesn’t matter who we face. I just concentrate on my match and clear my mind of everything else.”

With another conference bout set for this weekend and tough competition on the horizon, Windish plans for his team to continue their success.

“Every year,” he said, “we set team goals. This year, we wanted to win the South, and I think we put a lot of our focus on that. Our other big goal is to win a state title, and these kids believe they are capable of doing that. When you have a team working toward one goal, things can come together. We’re building every year, and that’s something that when I took over the program, we were going to concentrate on. We had a lot to prove this year, and we’re taking everything one match at a time. That end goal for us is the title.”

The Indians will travel to Polytech this Friday, Jan. 15, at 7 p.m., and will then have a week off before hosting Octorara (Pa.) High on Saturday, Jan. 23.