Three seasons ago, Western Tech coach Juan Solera and sophomore Tejon Anthony joined a struggling wrestling program together full of optimism and hope to build a solid foundation.
Anthony, who wrestled junior league for the Woodlawn Wolfpack as a freshman, put the rest of the state on notice when he went 35-4 and won a Class 1A-2A state championship — the first in Western Tech school history.
Solera increased the team's numbers by encouraging football players and other athletic underclassmen to try out for the team.
The results took hold last season when seven Wolverines qualified for the Maryland state wrestling tournament — another first in school history.
Four of those wrestlers return this season, including Anthony, who was fifth in the state tournament last season after getting bounced to the consolation bracket in the second round.
His coach knows he will use that as motivation in his final season.
"That was actually the only tournament that he didn't get gold in last year," Solera said. "He's not really used to losing at all. He loves to win, so I know those two losses will definitely motivate him this year to get back to the top of the podium."
Anthony, a tri-captain with Austin Harrison and Necho Freeman, expressed those same sentiments when asked if he's motivated.
"More than ever," he said. "There is nothing like being at the top of the podium and that's why I'm trying to get back to it."
After winning an 11-3 decision in the 145-pound bout over New Town's Chaz Holbrook in the Wolverines' 43-18 triumph at New Town on Dec. 12, Anthony improved his career record to 74-10 at Western Tech.
His success has rubbed off on classmates Harrison and Freeman, who both won at New Town with second-period pins for the 2-0 Wolverines.
Harrison (171) went to states and won a match and that inspired him to become more dedicated to the sport.
"I got there and I was able to see that I could do this, and I won a match at states and it pushed me," Harrison said. "I wrestled all offseason. I had a tournament two or three weeks after states and I've just been wrestling ever since. I just have to keep working."
Solera likes what he sees from the wrestler who went 33-11 last season.
He (Austin) is legit," Solera said. "He's coming around. He's put in a lot of work in the offseason and he's dedicated to the sport."
Austin knows if he wants to go even further in the postseason he has to improve. "I definitely want to work better on bottom, get up faster and never stay on bottom," he said.
Freeman also qualified for the state meet last season when he finished 29-15.
The 220-pounder, who wrestled at heavyweight against New Town, also has lofty goals after an appearance in the state tournament and being around his state champion teammate.
"It opened up my eyes for my senior year and I want to go far," he said. "Like Tejon said, I want to be at the top."
Solera sees his desire every day on the mat. "Necho is another kid that just loves the sport and he dedicated himself to some serious work this year and he's getting the result he deserves," Solera said.
Junior Thomas Anderson (126), who also qualified for the state meet last season, won a 9-6 decision over Darryl Watson against New Town.
Junior Malachi Gatewood (138) and freshman Ben Hogan (113) both added first-period pins and freshman Darrien Laboo (220) came from behind and earned a fall in the third period against the Titans.
Gatewood's pin is proof how far a wrestler can come after two full seasons. In his freshman year, all four of his victories were by forfeit.
"He's coming around," Solera said. "He's one of the big dogs on the team now. He's a junior and he's gotten a lot bigger and stronger and he's doing pretty well.
Laboo was plucked off the junior varsity football field, where he was a linebacker. "He has a good practice partner in Necho, so he is definitely being pushed to the max," Solera said.
Western Tech juniors Carlos Winston (152) and Angelo Payne (182) added victories over New Town.
Wolverine sophomore Miles Dorsey (160) and junior Jacob Stirn (195), who both lost at New Town, are also part of the Wolverines' resurgence along with a host of candidates that includes middleweights DeAngelo Brown, a sophomore, and freshmen Nick Calvert, Irving Montgomery, Jose Cabrera and Leonel Gonzalez and freshman heavyweight Chuck Kalu.
Their improvement will be enhanced by the three captains who are all at different weights.
"We are working hard every day and guys like me, Austin and Necho are pushing everyone in the room," Austin said.
They are also catching the winning vibe.
"People always want to be part of a winning team," Solera said. "They are not really sure of all the work they have to put in, but they eventually learn and they get better and they buy into the system and know they are going to have success."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun