by Marty Simpkins
RALEIGH — Four wrestlers from the Cougar squad placed first in their weight class at the Cap-8 wrestling tournament at Leesville Road High School.
As at team, Wake Forest came in fourth with 122.5 points while other local high schools, Wakefield and Heritage, finished sixth and seventh respectively. Host Leesville Road won the overall tournament Saturday with 151.5 points.
Wake Forest’s Nick Mutio was the highlight of the tournament for the Cougars, finishing first in the 120-pound weight class with 23.5 points. He defeated Heritage’s Michael Russo, Broughton’s Christian Bugger and Leesville Road’s Saige Akers. His father, coach Ed Mutio, was proud of his son’s performance, but wants to see what he can do in the near future.
“Nick is a hard worker and a two-time state qualifier,” Mutio said. “These next couple of weeks will determine what kind of wrestler he really is at the regional tournaments.”
For the 106-pound weight class, Joey Hannum placed first with 20 points to improve to 34-5 for the season. Sander Cypher placed first with 18 points in the 145-pound weight class to improve to 34-9 for the season. Mutio said that his sophomores have shown promise this season and he looks forward to seeing how they do after getting some more work in.
“Sander and Joey have performed really well, but they still have a lot of work to do,” Mutio said. “Even though they’re both sophomores, I chose them as co-captains with Nick and I expect a lot of production out of them. They are putting in the work during the offseason and it has showed with their play on the mat.”
Mutio only has two seniors on his squad: 220-pounder David Walker and 152-pounder Oscar Bryant. Walker won first place in his weight class with 22 points accredited to Wake Forest. Mutio has been focusing on developing his large group of young wrestlers.
“We are pretty young team,” Mutio said. “I took over the program this year and most of our lineup is underclassmen, because we only have two seniors. These guys have made a lot of improvements, but they still have a lot of work to do. What I try to measure is how they respond in matches, period by period. If they perform and do what we’ve taught them to do, then that’s a win for us.”
Even though Heritage came in second-to-last place ahead of Enloe, coach Thomas Durham heaped praise on his sophomore star, Anthony Brito.
“Anthony Brito is a great wrestler because he works hard at it,” Durham said. “He is aware of what it takes to be great. From the first time I met him, it was clear that he had certain goals and he was working towards them. Everything he does has a wrestling mindset. He gives 110 percent in practice, matches and in the classroom. I don’t believe Anthony was born with his wrestling talent, he has worked for it.”
The 126-pounder placed first with 18 points, including a rematch victory against Wakefied’s Billy Liptrot in the semifinals. Durham said it wasn’t the greatest performance for Brito this year, but the talented Husky fought back some adversity to win his weight class in the Cap-8 tournament.
“Anthony wrestled a great Cap-8 tournament, but it was not flawless and he will be the first one to tell you that,” Durham said. “A lot of kids panic when bad things happen in a match and then they start to wrestle poorly and find it hard to win. Anthony doesn’t. In fact, Anthony was taken down first in the finals. I think the last time he was taken down by an opponent first was mid-December. He did, however, turn the switch on and you can see it in his eyes when he wrestles. He did not panic, he focused on what he could control and he never stopped wrestling until the final whistle.”
Brito has been Heritage’s top wrestler with 44 wins under his belt. Even as a young player, Durham says that he has a big impact on the team as a whole.
“The biggest impact he has on the team is his ability to lead by example,” Durham said. “He shows passion for the sport which the other guys on the team are starting to do. He does exactly what he is told to do and he does it to the best of his ability and he knows that he is not above the team, because he always puts the team first.”
Durham has also liked what he has seen from another sophomore, Charlie Barefoot. The 152-pounder placed second in his weight class, but defeated Wake Forest’s senior wrestler, Oscar Bryant in the semifinals of the tournament. Durham said that was a big step for Barefoot.
“Charlie Barefoot has come a long way since the beginning of the season,” Durham said. “Going in to the Cap-8, I felt he was one of the top two in his weight class, his record just did not show it. I knew he was going to have a tough semi’s match, but I felt like he could still win. The wrestler he beat in the semifinals was Oscar Bryant from Wake Forest, the guy Charlie lost to the weekend before. It was great to see him come from behind and win the match against the Oscar in the third period. That match alone showed me that he is getting better and he is believing in his abilities as a wrestler.”
The individual regional tournament will be held at Wake Forest High School Feb. 13 and 14 to determine who qualifies for the state tournament.