The Western wrestling team officially began its season earlier this month, and the Panthers’ coach is looking for a strong season, as two returning state qualifiers are bolstering the roster.
While the Panthers graduated a few talented wrestlers, the team still has a plethora of promising athletes, according to Head Coach Chad Shepherd. Between the 106- and 138-pound weight classes, the team will be particularly strong, including last year’s two state qualifiers, senior Hunter Cottingham and sophomore Hayden Shepherd.
“We graduated some good guys, but we’ve got some really good guys back. From 106 up to like 138, we’re loaded. We’re going to have a couple really good wrestlers that can’t get in the lineup because we’re going to be that good,” Shepherd said.
Cottingham, wrestling at 132 pounds, is a three-peat state qualifier. Already committing to wrestle for the University of Indianapolis next winter, Shepherd is confident Cottingham will have a chance to place at the state finals as long as he stays healthy. A technically sound and quick athlete, Cottingham is stronger than he looks, Shepherd said, and he is good at his takedowns and using different combinations to get off the bottom during a match.
Looking ahead to the season, Cottingham is hoping to place higher on the podium this year but will need to continually put more effort in, he said. Working more on conditioning and running, he wants to push the pace on everybody.
“What happens on the mat, it all falls back on you. You don’t have anyone else to put the blame on or anything else. It’s just you and the other opponent,” Cottingham said.
Wrestling at 138 pounds, Hayden qualified for state as a freshman last year. He made huge strides in his performance last season, according to Shepherd, and his technique improved drastically.
“[I] got stronger in the weight room and just went around places all summer to wrestle and get better,” Hayden said.
A couple of Hayden’s big wins during the middle of the season helped propel him to the state tournament. Already having the experience of qualifying, Shepherd anticipates another successful year.
The Panthers had approximately seven or eight wrestlers qualify for semi-state last year, including junior Jerry Padgett, who will be returning for the Panthers at around 160 to 170 pounds. Senior AJ Swing also will be representing Western this season, as well as Braydon Erb who will be wrestling heavyweight and is also ranked fourth in the state at 220 pounds right now. The Panthers will see a few wrestlers between 145 and 152 pounds, as well as some freshmen and former junior varsity athletes who might gain some varsity experience.
“I want to put more than five guys at the state tournament. Period. Whatever that takes,” Shepherd said.
Lately, the team has been practicing footwork. According to Shepherd, if wrestlers can take their opponents down and get out from underneath, then they will win the majority of the matches. The Panthers will continue to work on these techniques specifically until after the first meet when Shepherd will gauge other skills that need to be worked on.
Western will host rival school Northwestern tonight, Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 6 p.m.