Junior Grant LeRoux looks for a pin against his opponent from Strong Rock. Photo: Fred Assaf

As the cold weather drives students indoors, fierce competition this year has kept the wrestlers in practice. The Pace wrestling team has had a great start to their season, with early wins against Rockmart High School, Athens Christian Academy, Mount Vernon Presbyterian and Strong Rock Christian Academy, with aspirations of staying on that track into the postseason.

At the helm of the program is head coach Gus Whyte, along with assistant coach Grady Stevens. The coaching staff has high hopes for all members on the team. “It would be great to have at least four or five guys go to state,” said Coach Stevens. “And this year I think we have the potential to do that.”

Following a productive preseason in the weight room, many of the wrestlers on the team were excited to start practices. “I was pretty happy that we did the workouts in the preseason,” said junior Blaise Reyes. “I feel like having those days of lifting has given me an edge that I can take advantage of in practices.” Reyes has made major improvements from years past, and as a junior helps lead the team in practices and duels.

This year, the varsity team fills 12 of the 14 weight classes, with several wrestlers between the 106 lb. and 152 lb. range. High numbers of wrestlers in the same weight classes bring a lot of depth to the team, as almost everyone has a practice partner around the same weight. This also creates more competition for varsity spots as wrestlers in each weight class challenge each other in wrestle-offs to decide who will get the starting position.

Compared to last year’s senior-heavy team, this year’s dynamic is quite different. With 11 freshmen wrestlers, some continuing their career from middle school and some starting for the first time, the team is building a strong foundation for future seasons. Standout freshmen like Sam Howe and twins Edward and George Blaha have had terrific seasons in their respective weight classes. “Going to the duels is my favorite part about wrestling,” said Howe, “because that’s when you get to go live against other teams and show off all the new moves you have learned in practice.”

With the new freshman energy and enthusiasm flowing in practices and matches, the team has become more youthful and connected. “What’s also different this year is that I think we are more unified as a team,” said Coach Stevens. “We have more guys identifying as wrestlers, which is fantastic for the program. We are also focusing more on technique this year compared to years past, which I think is what we need to be doing with this group of guys.”

Senior captain Ashan Hennings has done an excellent job this year of both improving his wrestling skills and keeping the freshmen in line. As one of the only two Pace wrestlers to make it to state last year, Hennings is thirsty for more competition in order to claim the title of state champion for himself.

On Nov. 21, the team traveled down the road to The Lovett School to compete in matches against Chattooga High, Haralson County, Lovett and Walnut Grove. Overall in team duels, Pace finished the day winning two out of four, putting the team in third place.

The team is 9-10 as of Dec. 10, and looks to improve on this record in upcoming duels. On Jan. 4 and 5, the team will venture to Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School to compete in the two-day Prep Slam tournament, which hosts several different schools including numerous out of state schools. Come out to Holy Innocents’ over the break to support your Knights.