The Granite Bears are looking to build off a strong 2011-12 wrestling season and make a push for the 1A Northwest Conference title.
Last year the Mount Airy wrestling program was the feel-good story of winter. The year before, the Bears had just seven wrestlers in six weight classes. Without enough wrestlers for the 14 weight classes, the Bears had to forfeit more than half their matches in each meet and went winless.
Then a new crop of young wrestlers coming up from the middle school provided plenty of fresh blood. The squad had six freshmen and a couple of sophomores who didn’t come out their first year.
Combined with junior Daniel Hatcher and senior Chris Mayes, Mount Airy went 19-16 on the season with wins over teams like East Surry, Forbush, Starmount, Surry Central and West Stokes.
The Bears won four out of five matches at the South Stokes Duals, falling only to conference champ North Surry.
After losing only one senior (Mayes, 22-19), the Bears return three 30-win wrestlers and three others who won 20 matches.
The three returning all-conference performers are Jackson Blizzard (33-10), Triston Mabry (34-13) and Shay Wilson (32-12). Blizzard is a junior, while Mabry and Wilson are sophomores.
Still growing boys, the three may have to move up a weight class or two this season. Blizzard was at 106, but could wrestle 126. Wilson was 126, but is playing tailback at 142 according to the football roster. Mabry was at 132 pounds last year.
The three returning 20-match winners are senior Daniel Hatcher (20-23), sophomore Nathan Holder (20-21) and junior Dallas Smith (23-19).
Holder showed a lot of natural leadership as a freshman last year and earned the coaches’ praise, but he has been sidelined with a knee injury in the preseason.
Coach Steve Braune said he expects Smith to be back at 160 pounds and Kolte Poore (12-16) back at 170 pounds
The Bears lose Mayes at 195, but gain another 20-win wrestler at that weight. Mason Timmerman, who transferred from Elkin, became the leading tackler on the football team. Last year for the Elks he had the best winning percentage with his record of 20-9.
Don’t forget, Braune pointed out, Zaqwan Dobson would have been one of the Bears’ best wrestlers last year, but he tore his ACL in the football playoffs and missed the entire season. He is back healthy at 220 pounds
Brian Bennett (10-19) and Charles Odom (4-10) split time last year at heavyweight. They could get another workout partner as the coaches are talking to another football player about joining the squad.
Isaiah King, who is interested in playing college football, is a 6-foot-2, 255-pound junior who could improve his blocking skills with some wrestling training. He is a strong young man who could push the returning wrestlers for a starting spot, according to the coach.
“With numbers come skills,” said Braune. Having a couple of boys at each weight class makes for better practices and faster growth in ability, he believes. North Surry and Surry Central are 2A schools who have seen the benefit of having big squads, and the Bears are building toward that, he said.
While he wants to be competitive with the Eagles and Greyhounds, Braune said his main focus is becoming the best 1A team and getting an automatic berth in the state dual-team playoffs.
That means besting Bishop McGuinness, which had six players on the all-conference team last year, as well as East Surry, North Stokes and South Stokes.
“We won’t surprise anyone this time,” he said. However, he still expects to improve on last year’s record.