Resilient Rockets hit new heights
These may be the glory days for Needham wrestling, but there was a not too distant time when it wasn’t so glorious.
‘‘These kids didn’t win a lot as freshmen, but they stayed with it and got better every year,’’ Needham coach Stephen Tunney said. ‘‘Of the 20 freshmen, 14 of them stayed with it, and the success we’re having this season belongs to them for sticking it out.’’
The first sign had the potential to be a special season came in December when Needham captured the Wayland Tournament, one of top five meets in the state.
‘‘That put us on the map; people became aware of us,’’ Tunney said. ‘‘We had been going there for years and I expectations of going there, doing well and finishing in the top four. But to go and win tournament was a great thing for our kids.’’
From there, Needham went on to capture the Belmont Invitational in addition to dual-meet wins over Bay State Conference rivals Weymouth and Framingham. The win over Weymouth was the first for the Rockets over Wildcats since they joined Bay State Conference in 1995. ‘‘Our kids were really prepared for that match,’’ Tunney said. ‘‘I think the confidence they got from winning Wayland and Belmont was difference. A lot of times, wrestling is 90 percent mental and our kids were ready.’’
The top wrestler for the Rockets is senior Jordan Michelson, the No. 1-ranked 140-pounder in
state. Michelson cemented his position at the top of the mountain by winning Lowell Holiday Tournament.
‘‘Jordan has a unique style, he’s very tough to take down,’’ Tunney said. ‘‘He’s incredibly strong and has a great work ethic. The younger wrestlers see him and what it takes to become a champion.’’
James Carroll stars at 130 pounds, while Nate Goldman has been superb at 152 pounds. Carroll usually pairs up with Michelson in practice and the experience has helped both, while Tunney compares Goldman to former Needham star Dan Fox for his intensity and sheer force.
Carroll and his younger brother Mark (103 pounds) are Tunney’s nephews. While some wrestling coaches aren’t necessarily wild about coaching relatives, Tunney feels it has not created a problem at all.
‘‘We have pretty closely knit family, so this hasn’t been a problem for us,’’ Tunney said, adding that he often has assistants Jeff Witowski, Ryan McGovern and Nick Gamble work with them to minimize any potential problems.
The lineup is senior-laden with eight providing leadership: Tyler Turnbull (119), Logan Turnbull (125), Michelson (140), Gerry Bannon (145), Goldman (152), Anton Serhan (160), Brian O’Keefe (171) and Joe McMahon (215).
Sometimes, a loss isn’t such a bad thing. Take Masconomet, which responded to an early-season loss to Tewksbury by ripping off five consecutive wins to improve to 7-1.
‘‘That’s probably the best thing that could have happened to us,’’ coach Brian Mintz said. ‘‘They learned that you cannot just show up and win, that’s something (assistant coach) Nick Eddy and I stressed to the kids. Then we told them that they couldn’t be afraid of getting roughed up, otherwise they’ll never be a quality team.
‘‘From that point on as unit, they decided that, no matter what happens, they would not roll over and play dead.’’
Leading the way for the Chieftains is senior captain Nate Hooper, who is 18-1 at 112 pounds — the only loss coming to defending New England champion Sam Shames of Newton North. The other captain is 160-pounder Peter Brostowin, who has either a pin or a technical fall in each of his 19 wins.
‘‘The most important thing you want from any captain is reliability,’’ Mintz said. ‘‘I know if Nick or I aren’t in the room, they can run the show and do as good a job as we do as far maintaning discipline and intensity. There’s nothing worse than having a bad captain, but we have such great captains that they make it easy.’’
Other key wrestlers are 103pounder Justin Lawrence, who has pinned eight straight opponents, and 215-pounder Jordan Krull, who is 16-6 on the season. Mintz calls Krull a true success story in every sense of the word.
‘‘Jordan came as a 300pound freshman and decided to set some personal goals for himself,’’ said Mintz. ‘‘Thankfully, those goals coincided with wrestling and he’s gone on to have a real good season.’’
The Herald will begin taking standings today between noon and 5 p.m. League representatives may call 800-464-1819, email to hssports@bostonherald. or fax to 617-619-6430. Please verify all fax and e-mail transmissions with a follow-up call.