APEX — A year ago, Apex’s wrestling team roster of 10 athletes lacked enough bodies to fill out the 14 weight classes.
But the Cougars have undergone a stunning one-year transformation under first-year coach Michael New, a substitute teacher with an Ivy League background. He spent the fall walking the halls recruiting and eventually came up with a varsity and junior varsity roster numbering 45.
Apex’s bolstered lineup defeated Middle Creek 48-25 Thursday night at the Cougars’ gym for its first conference victory. Apex is now 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference, while Middle Creek dropped to 1-5 overall and 1-1 in the SWAC.
“Coach talked to a lot of kids and got some football players to come out,” said junior Mike Crider, one of the team’s few veterans who won his 138-pound match in a 6-4 decision. “We used to only have parents and some grandparents to our matches. Now we have a lot of fans, and Coach got the cheerleaders to come to our last match. Now we get congratulated at school.”
New is a familiar face to wrestling fans in the Triangle as a referee the past three years.
He said his wife’s income affords him the opportunity to stay involved in the sport, and he decided he missed coaching. He was an All-Ivy League 167-pounder at Cornell as a senior in 1992 and then coached 10 years at Princeton, with nine as a head coach through the 2005-06 season.
“We’ve got a lot of kids working hard and learning the sport of wrestling,” New said. “I just want kids to come out and have fun. I tell them to just try it for one day. We’ll play dodge ball if we have to do that to make it fun for them.”
Six Cougars won with pins: Eric Montoya at 106 pounds; Dalton Phillips (120); Daniel Krakowski (152); Fred Sharpe (182); Connor Cunningham (195); and Farrell DiAnni (220).
Middle Creek also is a rebuilding program under first-year head coach Heath Allen, a former Millbrook assistant.
Among Middle Creek’s wins were Ryan Pasquale’s pin at 113 pounds and an 18-7 decision by Tyrell Komethery at 145.
“We’re trying to get our numbers up and get kids to buy into the program,” Allen said. “We’re building on a little success at a time.”