The Woodruff High School wrestling team, once one of the state’s dominant programs, has seen a rise in success again in recent years. Now, the Wolverines are looking to take the next step as one of the top teams in Class 3A this season.
After finishing the 2018-19 season with a 20-9 record and second place finish in Region III, and with eight starters returning, the Wolverines are primed to compete for a region championship this season.
“Hopefully we can put each individual in a position to be successful by the time January and February rolls around,” Head Coach John Harper said. “Our focus is on getting better one match, or practice, at a time and putting ourselves in the best position possible to be successful with regards to what we want to achieve.”
Harper says a large senior class should aid in the maturation process for his team, leading to success on that mat.
“Having a large number of seniors in the room will help with that, along with having younger wrestlers who have been successful providing that drive for the youth to keep up what the older kids have helped to establish,” he said.
Returning for Woodruff this year are a bevy of talented wrestlers, including the sensational Tony DeLaGarza, who finished last season with a 34-1 record. Joining him are Gabe Ellison (31-7), Noah Johns (30-20) and Charles Landrum (26-13), who all enjoyed successful campaigns a year ago.
Landrum finished as a state runner-up in the individual tournament while Ellison, Johns, and Bryton Sloan were all state tournament qualifiers.
The Wolverines are ranked sixth in the 3A ranks in the initial preseason poll, but Harper said the team doesn’t take much stock in polls and rankings, only on winning.
“We honestly don’t place much emphasis on rankings,” Harper said. “We tend to keep our focus on the task at hand, whether that is getting better in practice, or working new techniques into our wrestling in competitions. December provides us a great opportunity to focus on trying new things and really getting better at the things we need to in order to be competitive in the region, and statewide. It’s all about peaking at the right time and being prepared when the opportunity presents itself to win big matches.”
With a tough non-conference and region slate forthcoming, and with a number of talented teams in upperstate 3A, the road to a region, and what the Wolverines hope will be a state championship, will not be easy. Still, Harper says, he has a team that is willing to work hard toward achieving their common goals, an attribute he says is the greatest characteristic of his team.
“The kids are the greatest attribute to this team in my opinion,” he said. “Just their willingness to compete in a sport such as wrestling, and to work daily on becoming better than the day before. It’s a blessing as coaches to get to share our love of a sport with younger kids and watch them grow and learn as individuals. That willingness to commit to learning something new and difficult, and to want to be better at it daily, is the best thing we can ask for in the kids we work with. Hopefully, it pays off with success either in wrestling or in life for these kids as they grow.”