With two wrestlers who finished among the top three in the state last year returning, Charlotte Catholic coach Steve Wyniemko believed the Cougars would be good a team during the 2011-12 season.
But even Wyniemko was surprised by what his team accomplished this year.
During the regular season, the Cougars amassed a 26-7 dual-team record, which included a perfect 5-0 mark in the ME-GA 7 3A/4A conference and resulted in a league championship.
On Feb. 4, Charlotte Catholic began the postseason in thrilling fashion, too, as the Class 3A Cougars out-dueled several 4A squads to win the ME-GA 7 tournament championship.
The Cougars finished with 174 points, topping Olympic (163), East Gaston (139) and West Mecklenburg (88).
Four Catholic wrestlers took home individual titles: Billy Ferris (103 pounds), Thomas Mumford (113), Chase Hayes (145) and Michael LaVecchia (152).
Last season, Hayes finished second at the 3A state meet, while Mumford took third place. The experience and talent of those two wrestlers, coupled with rising senior leaders such as LaVecchia, provided Wyniemko with some optimism about this season. But he admitted he was concerned because the Cougars also were being hit with an influx of freshman grapplers.
“We wanted to take the other guys to that state level,” Wyniemko said. “Fortunately, we had a good group of kids that wanted to put in the work. We’ve been developing the whole year. We’re young and we’re old, and our kids just haven’t quit.
“Sure, we were expecting a good season, but I don’t know if we were expecting this good of a season.”
Mumford and Hayes helped set the tone early in the preseason with their work ethic, Wyniemko said. The 113-pound Mumford, for instance, spent time working out with the 106-pound Ferris, and both wrestlers benefitted. Mumford, a senior, finished the regular season with a 43-3 record, while Ferris, a junior, went 31-6, en route to winning his conference crown. LaVecchia (43-7) also had a strong season.
Hayes, meanwhile, put together another dominant campaign, posting a record of 46-1. The junior is third in the state at 145 pounds, according to retrorankings.com.
“It’s been great because everyone on the team has just been working hard this year,” Wyniemko said. “It just seems like we’re peaking at a good time. Everything’s kind of coming together.”
As a result, the Cougars won’t just remember last weekend’s conference tournament championship meet for the first-place winners; a number of other Catholic wrestlers had strong showings, too.
For instance, the team’s conference silver-medalists included Ben Litton (132 pounds), Johnny Bruno (138), Nick Elchert (170) and Spencer Hayes (182). Third-place finishers were Joseph Lapiana (160) and Joe Hurney (220). Fourth-place finishers were Blake Jackson (120), Peter Lapiana (126) and Ben Brady (195).
Hence, the Cougars were optimistic heading into the first round of the state dual-team tournament on Feb. 7. Their first opponent was Morganton Freedom, which had a 13-6 record.
“I think we definitely have an opportunity to win a match or two, which would be a great achievement for us,” Wyniemko said. “It all comes down to pairings.”