22 Aug 2014
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Stoughton Wrestles With Success: Team Faces O.A. Tonight

With a new coach this young team looks to step up in the Hock.

Underneath , there is a dank maze of whitewashed corridors connecting locker rooms, trainer's offices and supply closets. After a few minutes you get used to that locker room smell—decades of damp, concentrated sweat crusted onto tile floors and spread by the warm air from industrial-sized heaters. This is where Stoughton High wrestling practice begins.

 "Usually, we start with 10-15 minutes of stairs," first year coach Justin Leonard explained gesturing towards the 20-plus adolescents gasping their way up and down a staircase at full speed, "as a little warm-up," he added without irony.

Once school ends at 2:12 p.m. student-athletes have a brief period to check in with teachers and collect their things. Then they need to get changed by 2:45 p.m. Practice usually starts in earnest by 3 p.m..

After stairs it's more running, this time on flat ground, followed by a rotating daily schedule of conditioning and technique. The kids rarely stop moving until practice ends around 5:45 p.m. A lot of times kids will stay after to wrestle some more, "just to roll around a bit," as the coach puts it.

"Wrestling's the toughest sport, practice-wise," Leonard said. It's easy to see why. Many on the team play football in the fall, but even that rigorous conditioning doesn't prepare them for wrestling season.

"When kids come from practicing football. they're heavy," he explained, "but soon we get them down to around 12-percent body fat."

But Leonard is no evil taskmaster. He introduces his captains with obvious pride and points out the unusual wherewithal of this year's team.

"Most teams are cut in half before the season starts," he said. The team started with 31 wrestlers and is still going strong with 24 remaining. "If one person is going slow, the team picks them up by cheering them on," the coach said.

If it's not the tangible camaraderie, it might be the way practice is structured quite differently from other wrestling programs.

"Lots of teams do the same drills every day," Leonard said. "We alternate each day: a day of agility, then a day of strength, agility, strength," hoping to keep his team's minds and bodies refreshed.

Leonard also highlighted that he tries to keep practices fun. A lot of times the team will play a game of dodgeball or ultimate Frisbee to get loose. "We want it to be fun. We want the kids coming back," he said.

So far this season, it's working.

Part of the strength of the Stoughton wrestling program Leonard attributes to the support structure, pointing to athletic director Ryan Donahue and principal Matt Colantonio, Stoughton's former wrestling coach. Flanked by assistant coaches Josh Cross and Pat Walsh, the Stoughton team seems poised for a successful year.

On the mat they will be lead by three junior captains. Andrew Paredes wrestles in the heavyweight division, Kevin Richard at 145 pounds and Stevie Colling at 112.

Last year the team struggled.  This year, with only two seniors—152-pounder Travis Demko and 160-pound Anthony Barros—it will be exciting to see if such a young team can keep improving. Captains Colling and Richard both mentioned that this year is a chance to "build up," individually and as a team.

Paredes (fitting that his name means "wall" in Spanish—he's built like one) had a successful, yet frustrating sophomore season. He made it to sectionals, but hurt his ankle two weeks before states. He hopes with strong junior and senior years he can wrestle at a NCAA Division 1 school.

Leonard thinks the team has a good shot and in his first year knows what he's up against as a coach. The reorganization of the Hockomock League heightens the scrutiny on smaller schools like Stoughton High. Larger opponents like King Phillip or Franklin—who Leonard pointed out as the top in the conference—can seem like league leviathans.

At the same time, similar-sized schools like Canton, offer a sort of trap match for smaller schools hoping to evince their prowess among the big boys.

In what should prove to be a demanding season, Leonard is putting his faith in his oft-repeated mantra: "self-motivation and discipline." With their new coach's support, the Black Knights wrestling team could turn some heads on and off the mat this year.

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