Local schools boast serious wrestling stars

Westover head coach Bennie Tillman, foreground, poses with his team in the Westover wrestling room as they prepare for the 2021-22 season.

By Earl Vaughan Jr.

With the most severe threat of COVID-19 hopefully beginning to fade from view, the high school wrestling season is set to resume for what most coaches feel will be a more normal year than 2020.
Here’s a brief look at some of the top-ranked wrestlers from Cumberland County this season.

Cape Fear

While Colt head coach Heath Wilson said this will be a rebuilding year for his team, he’s got two pretty solid starting blocks to start, Calan Staub and Jaden Paul.
Staub, who transferred in from Alabama, placed in the state tournament there for two years before arriving at Cape Fear. He finished third in the state tournament here last season at 145 pounds.
He’s bulked up during the offseason and will likely compete at somewhere between 160 and 170 pounds.
“He’s got a mission,’’ Wilson said. “I don’t think anybody is getting in his way this year.’’
Paul competed at 170 pounds last season. “Jaden is long, lanky and just funky,’’ Wilson said. “He doesn’t move like a regular wrestler would. That’s what makes him so dangerous on the mat, his style.’’
Paul hasn’t settled on a weight class for this season. Wilson said he could fall anywhere from 182 to 195.
“We’ve got to find different ways to motivate him,’’ Wilson said. “He’s already got all the tools.’’

Gray’s Creek

The Bears will be led by Richard Williams, a 126-pounder last season whom coach Earl Horan describes as strong, fast and athletic.
“He’s calm and cool under pressure,’’ Horan said. “He only gave up one takedown all of last season. That was to a 4-A wrestler now wrestling at UNC-Pembroke.’’
Horan said Williams will likely start the season at 132 pounds but could drop back to 126 after the Christmas vacation break.
Horan is excited about his wrestlers in the lower weights and thinks the Bears could possibly challenge perennial powers South View, Cape Fear and Lumberton for top honors in the United 8 Conference.
“It’s going to be a fun season,’’ Horan said. “I’m really excited about it. We’re hoping to make a little bit of noise out here in the creek.’’

Jack Britt

Coach Byron Sigmon returns two of the top wrestlers in the state in Joseph Lock and Amarie Daniels.
Lock competed at the 160-pound level last season. He could remain there this year or move up to 170.
Sigmon said Lock has the most experience on the Britt team and has a lot of different moves on the mat. “Joe’s a hard worker,’’ Sigmon said. “He’s going to try and finish a match as quick as he can.’’
Unfortunately, that has led to Lock’s biggest weakness: endurance. Sigmon said he’ll need to work on that as the season progresses.
Daniels is back after an aborted 2020 season that ended early because of a knee injury. Since wrestling season was pushed to summer last season by COVID-19 and Daniels wanted to play football, he elected to end wrestling early so he could get the knee ready for football season in the fall.
“He’s a big, strong kid,’’ Sigmon said. “Same as Joe he knows his strengths and where he’s weak at.’’
Sigmon said he has a young team but they have been picking up things well in practice. “We have a couple of kids that may surprise some people,’’ he said.

Westover

Wolverine coach Bennie Tillman is high on returning 220-pounder Remington Workman. “He’s strong, quick and he believes in the weight room,’’ Tillman said. “He’ll definitely get a takedown.’’
Tillman doesn’t think Workman is feeling any pressure because of his high ranking coming into the season. “We try to take it one match at a time, go and have fun,’’ Tillman said. “I think he’ll be fine.’’
Tillman also returns one of the state’s top female wrestlers, Ayanna McNeill, who placed third in the state in the invitational girls’ wrestling tournament last season.
Westover only has one senior on the team, Dakota Little, who was a conference and regional champion as well as a state qualifier.
He’s counting on sophomore Cory Cooper being a sleeper.
“The key for us is to stay healthy and for the kids to believe,’’ Tillman said. “I believe I have a team that can make some noise.’’