Suffolk grapplers getting stronger

Published 9:17 pm Saturday, January 3, 2009

Saturday’s Lakeland Duals confirmed that both the hosts and their Suffolk neighbors from King’s Fork are continuing the climb towards solid wrestling programs. To many of those at the competition, the Cavaliers and Bulldogs were merely two of the 11 teams involved, but both squads are engaged in building projects and measure their progress not just in victories and losses.

“Everything’s new for a lot of our kids, on and off the mat,” said King’s Fork coach Brett Heberling, whose team features 11 starters with two or fewer years of wrestling experience. “I have a lot of parent support, and they remind me that there’s a lot more to what we’re doing than the final score.”

That’s good, because the Bulldogs lost handily to Hampton and Granby in the first two of their four Saturday matches. Even in defeat, however, Heberling believes his competitors make strides toward respectability.

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“Winning isn’t the best thing for learning,” he said. “Getting your butt kicked is. Plus, it gives you character.”

Heberling was a King’s Fork assistant last season, when the fledgling team would have folded if not for the intervention of industrial arts teacher Barry Potter, who had no wrestling background. Heberling, a Pennsylvania native steeped in that state’s great grappling history, has taken over for the current campaign and has 23 competitors in a program that finished last winter with a paltry seven.

Because of early-season injuries, King’s Fork probably still will have to forfeit at one or two weight classes, but competition within the program has increased and a foundation is being laid. Heberling is adamant that strong high school teams are fed by strong youth programs, and he and Lakeland coach John Bostwick teamed to start one last summer.

“This is not a sport you can just pick up in a year or two and be really good at,” Heberling said. “You have to learn not only the basic moves and holds, but how to cut, gain and maintain weight and how to compete through bumps and bruises. The good thing is, we’ve been blessed with a great group of kids, and the guys have real camaraderie and work to push each other. That’s neat to see.”

King’s Fork is paced by experienced seniors David Hommell (130 pounds) and Jordan Billings (140). Hommell is recovering from nasal surgery and likely won’t be at full strength for several weeks, but Billings is leading the charge.

“He was up 11-0 on a kid going into the third period this morning, and he was wrestling like he was down 11-0 in the state finals, because he wanted to earn us the team points,” Heberling said in admiration. “There was no feasible way we were going to win, but it’s things like that that make him a great leader.”

Lakeland’s top performers thus far are juniors Alex Sari (160) and Cory Beale (189). The former entered Saturday’s last three dual matches with a 47-12 record since the start of last season and the latter weighs only 177 pounds but is wrestling at a higher weight class to help ensure the Cavaliers don’t have any holes in their lineup.

Lakeland had 16 wrestlers last season and has 25 this winter, with 10 starters returning. Bostwick, in his second year at the helm, said he’s increased the strength of the Cavaliers’ schedule and has been pleased with the results so far, but like Heberling, has to reign in his impatience at times.

“Sometimes I bite my lip and remind myself that in two years, we’ll have a whole team of guys who have learned how to wrestle the same way,” he said. “We’ll have fewer bad habits, and everyone will fully understand my expectations.”

King’s Fork is next in action Wednesday, when it visits Indian River to clash with the host Braves and Hickory in a Southeastern District match. Lakeland faces a major challenge in its next contest, a Wednesday visit to Western Branch to confront the host Bruins and district and state power Great Bridge.