IR wrestlers to hit the mat in upcoming meets

The start of Indian River High School’s season on the wrestling mat may have been a shaky one but, for head coach Jeff Windish and his lineup, it’s been a learning experience. From heated conference duels to competitive tournaments boasting all-state athletes, the Indians have had their hands full. Now, as some familiar faces return to the lineup, the Indians are looking to put together a threatening run as they approach the season’s midpoint.

“The competition our guys are seeing is fierce,” said Windish.

Just before the Christmas holiday, the Indians squared off at the infamous Battle at the Beach, hosting 22 teams from four surrounding states. Though the Indians finished 17th as a team, there were some notable standouts from the tournament. Freshman Max Wilkinson (130 pounds) finished eighth, while his older brother Bo (171 pounds) clenched fourth place in his division. Senior Delfino Pascual (112 pounds) locked up eight place, and Katteem Harmon (285 pounds) secured seventh-place.

“We wrestled well at spots in the lineup,” said Windish. “[Harmon] is continuing to progress each match with his performance. We could have placed a little higher if we had our full lineup, but it was a good tournament, and it showed us where we’re at.”

The Indians followed up the tournament with a mediocre dual against Smyrna.

“That one was unfortunate,” Windish noted. “We didn’t show up ready. We came out flat, and we were out-wrestled from the first whistle to the last whistle. I felt that there were a couple of decisions that could have gone our way.

“Bo lost a close one to David Brower, but he learned from it,” he added. “He’s not going to make the same mistake in a match like that again. Katteem lost a decision at heavyweight on a penalty point, and it took his head out of the match.

“We knew, going in, that the cards were stacked against us,” said Windish. “Smyrna is a traditional powerhouse. Again, I would have liked to see the score a little closer, but now we know we have to come out to wrestle.”

Their skills were put to the test again, traveling to Pennsylvania at the end of December for the Manheim Lions Classic Wrestling tournament.

“We knew that this one was going to be another meat grinder,” Windish added. “The 14 teams that we saw there were all solid programs in and around Pennsylvania.”

Again, Harmon had an impressive showing, nabbing sixth place.

“He had an outstanding tournament,” the coach stated. “He lost to a state-qualifier from Pennsylvania, but he’s definitely showing that he can wrestle with anyone. He has good attitude, and he’s learning from his losses. He’s working on his mistakes at practice, and you can tell he wants to get better. It doesn’t take much prompting from the coaches to get him going.” Freshman Josh Lopez (125 pounds) and junior Antonio Gonzalez (119 pounds) also picked up wins in their tough matches at Manheim.

“When you take into consideration the type of talent and strength of the kids we’re wrestling, there’s plenty for our guys to learn,” said Windish. “I’ve been telling the guys I front-loaded the schedule to prepare our wrestlers for the later part of the season. Hopefully, that will work in our favor.”

In the upcoming week, Windish hopes to have some talented athletes making their way back into the lineup. Junior Matt McDowell, who has been nursing an injury since War on the Shore in early December, has been resting up and is expected to hit the mats in the approaching matches. Tim Bokinsky will also be making a return after some injury time off the starting lineup.

“Hopefully,” Windish said, “once these guys are back in their spots, it will make us a stronger dual team. Adjusting without all your starters is hard. It’s difficult to lose kids of that caliber and still put a team out that is going to be competitive against the powers of the conference. I’m not one to make excuses, but those who fill in those spots have to step up for us. They’re getting an introduction of what high-school wrestling is about.”

The Indians have their sights locked onto Delmar this Friday, Jan. 9, before a quad meet on Saturday with Cape Henlopen, Caravel Academy and Laurel.

“I think we have a good chance at coming into these a little stronger,” he said. “We don’t want to overlook anybody. Our kids are hungry. They want to win. Hopefully, we can start working our way back up to the top.”

Friday’s dual meet is set for 7:15 p.m. in the Indian River gymnasium, while Saturday’s quad meet will start at 10 a.m.