With just one departed senior from last year’s team (Tyler Dennis), the varsity wrestling Fighting Scots remain loaded with individual talent heading into the 2012-13 season.
But expectations remain tempered, because the 15-wrestler roster that Scotland will begin the season with is largely comprised of underclassmen that haven’t earned significant experience as of yet.
Regardless, wrestlers and coaches alike feel that the potential for the Scots is limitless if the unproven grapplers follow the trail blazed by their already-decorated teammates.
“I think our ceiling is as high as we want to push it,” said Scotland 160-pound senior Adrian Soto-Perez, one of the Scots who will be tasked with setting an example for the younger wrestlers to follow. Barring any last minute additions, Soto-Perez and 170-pound senior Nick Kee are the heaviest wrestlers as the roster currently stands. “We have the guys to finish high in the state this year, we just have to put the work in and make the sacrifices to do it.”
“With all our new guys and the smaller roster, this season will be a learning experience,” said Scotland coach Joel McKanna, who is entering his 20th season as the Fighting Scots’ head coach. “But if the juniors and seniors live up to our expectations and the young guys step up then we can do really well this season.”
Though the individual wrestling accomplishments of the Fighting Scots have been well-documented, the team as a whole has quietly established itself as a perennial force over the years.
The Kee siblings (senior Nick and junior Jessi) have garnered a slew of conference, national and statewide distinctions, as both have been declared national champions in their respective weight classes. Soto-Perez has also cemented himself as one of Scotland’s top wrestlers as well, and along with Nick hopes to add an undefeated state championship to his already impressive resume in his final year with the Scots.
Yet, once the 2011-12 season concluded, the Fighting Scots as a team found themselves second behind the eventual state champion Pinecrest Patriots in the Southeastern Conference, and seventh overall in North Carolina. Scotland has never finished below third place in the conference under McKanna’s tenure.
The team stands united in wanting to best the precedent that was set last year. And in order to do that, several other wrestlers will have to meet the lofty expectations coming from both coaches and themselves.
Two of which are junior Afiz Lateef and senior Deshawn Williams.
“Last year I was upset with how I finished the season, but as a whole I was extremely close to reaching my goal,” Lateef said. At the conclusion of the 2011-12 season, Lateef was a two point takedown away from finishing in the top six wrestlers in regional competition, which would have qualified him for the state tournament.
“But getting better starts with hard work, and it’s going to take some momentum and drive on my part to do better than I did last year. I want to take this season one step at a time,” Lateef said.
“It means a lot that I’m expected to be one of the stronger wrestlers on this team this year,” said Williams, whose younger brother (freshman Josiah) is also on the varsity squad this season. “It gives me all the more reason to do well, not just for myself but for the coaches too.”
The road to outdoing the individual and team performances from last year will start out difficult for the Scots and only continue from there. Scotland opens its season Tuesday evening at home by hosting Jack Britt, a team that holds an advantage in both roster size and weight over the Fighting Scots. That match will take place in the SHS new gym beginning at 6 p.m.
But in terms of jump-starting their season with a challenge, it’s exactly how the Fighting Scots prefer it. The Buccaneers will give both new and established wrestlers a chance to hit the ground running and establish confidence, which will hopefully carry over to the schedule which will heat up following the Thanksgiving break.
While Nick Kee shoots for another season of perfection (having finished last season with a 58-0 record en route to his second consecutive state championship), his hopes of seeing the team around him progress holds equal weight in his mind.
“Winning your own state championship is great, but seeing your team excel right along with you is even better,” Kee said. “I know as a team-leader that I have to help set good examples and lead my teammates in the right direction. I can speak for the rest of guys when I say that we want everyone right there with us at the region and state level.”
As one of the wrestlers that McKanna and company has high hopes for, freshman Jacob Young looks to his older teammates as benchmarks for what he intends to do in his career.
“Every one thinks I have good potential, and I know I can live up to that if teammates and coaches keep working with me,” said Young, who will likely compete in the 106-pound weight class. “Watching guys like Nick and Adrian, I hope I can follow in their footsteps one day. I think I can win a state championship myself one day.”