Cleveland Heights wrestling coach Willie Newton was disappointed when most of members didn’t return this year.
Staring Newton right in the face were all the attendant clichés of rebuilding a team with an almost new lineup as it opened the season this past weekend at the King of the Hill wrestling tournament in East Liverpool, Ohio.
Although the trip toward the state’s border was a long one, the weekend’s accomplishments had Newton cruising on what he called “a natural high” heading home.
The tournament convinced Newton that quite a bit can be achieved this season. He calls himself a very optimistic kind of coach, sometimes to his assistants’ chagrin, but he was elated with what he saw.
“The group we’ve been blessed with are the type of kids we’ve been looking for since I started (coaching) wrestling. Right away, they’ve worked together like a team since day one. And I think that’s something you can try to teach as a coach, but they either have it or they don’t,” Newton, 31, said.
Overall, the team finished 12th out of 19 teams, and the Tigers had six wrestlers reach the top Group A bracket for the second day of the two-day tournament that began Friday and finished Saturday.
Sophomore Raqib Hickerson (113 pounds) and sophomore Mario Patton (285) went undefeated on the first day as Hickerson went 3-0 and Patton, 2-0.
Freshman Mujawid Ewell (120), sophomore Armond Richards (120), sophomore Anteuz Wilburn (126), freshman Georgiana Rivers (132), junior Jamar Patton (152), senior Austin Easterling (171), sophomore Michael Torrence (195), sophomore Jerome Walker (195) and sophomore Noah Scalish (220) also made the trip with several switching their weight classes for the event.
Sophomore Derwin Barton (285) got hurt at the tournament, and senior Aaron Burns (152) was scheduled to take his ACT test that weekend and couldn’t attend. Newton expects a few more wrestlers to join the team.
“They were phenomenal. It was our best first tournament that we’ve had in my years of wrestling,” Newton said. “We’ve been used to just being in the tournament, .”
Newton, a '99 Heights grad, has been the head coach for the past four years and was an assistant for one year.
Although she didn’t win a match, Newton thought perhaps the most important performance came from Rivers, the lone girl on the team. He said nobody will underestimate her tenacity and competitiveness after this weekend.
“She lost, but she didn’t lose quietly. If there was any guy who stepped out on the mat and wrestled her, thinking, 'maybe I should take it easy because she’s a girl,' she let them know that was not about to happen.
“If she sticks with it, she’s going to be one of the best wrestlers to come out of Cleveland Heights. She has the attitude we want all the guys to have,” Newton said. “She’s a scrapper, man, she really is.”
The Tigers host John Marshall, Rhodes and Lincoln West at 6 p.m. Thursday.