The Patch High School wrestling team set out to defend its 2009 D1 title during the Feb. 19-20 DODDS-Europe wrestling championships in Wiesbaden.
With half the team making it to the finals, the deck was stacked in their favor.
Seven of the team’s 14 championship participants made it to the finals in their respective weight divisions. The results: three Patch Panthers came away with gold, four with silver, and the team earned its second consecutive D1 title and the total points record.
“The team scored 232 points — five points more than the old record of 227,” said first-year head coach Norman Matzke, who added that the team’s success at the championships capped off a winning record in all of its tournaments.
“I’m very proud of all our wrestlers. The coaches and I pushed them pretty hard throughout the year, and they came up big in the finals,” Matzke said. “In a sport that is as much an individual sport as there is, it was our team-first mentality that helped propel the wrestlers to do well individually.”
The team had no shortage of individual talent, and the wrestlers who came away with silver medals included junior Marshall Haas (189 pounds), junior Jason Pinnow (171 pounds), sophomore Matt Seely (152 pounds) and senior Mike Niccoll (215 pounds).
“Matt’s loss seemed to put a damper on the celebration the team was enjoying after winning three out of three matches’ prior to his,” Matzke said. “In this sport, a small mistake can turn into a pin, and unfortunately, that is what happened to Matt.”
Although the Haas and Pinnow matches grabbed the crowd’s attention, the toughest Panther match in the finals was more of a mental than physical battle. Senior Octavio Otero faced off against his best friend and former teammate Jaron Henningen, in the 125-pound division.
Henningen transferred to Heidelberg before the start of the school year.
“It was my toughest match of the year by far, and it brought tears to my eyes when it was over and I had narrowly defeated him 4-3,” Otero said. “Talking with Jaron after the match, I found it was just as tough for him as it was for me.”
Also earning a gold medal for the Panthers was senior Robert Davis, who defeated Ethan Montang of Baumholder in the 135-pound division.
Of the three Patch victories in the finals, the only one earned by a pin came from a wrestler who questioned whether he was even good enough to compete, let alone take gold in the championships.
“I didn’t think I would even wrestle this year, because I didn’t believe I was good enough, but Coach Kevin Levija told me to stick it out,” said sophomore Calen Fields, who went 24-2 during the season and pinned Cody Clay from Baumholder in five minutes, 11 seconds for the 145-pound gold medal. “I will be back next year and hope to be a captain and help lead the team to another European title.”
After this year’s dominance on the mats and a Division 1 trophy to show for it, teams such as Heidelberg, Lakenheath and Ramstein will be gunning for the Panthers come next year.
However, with seasoned wrestlers like Pinnow, Haas and Fields, as well as freshman David Kellet-Forsyth (who took fifth place in the 103-pound division), the team will have a strong corps of returning wrestlers to help keep the D1 title trophy nestled nicely in the Patch High School trophy case for yet another year.