After the Lejeune High School wrestling team lost to Pender High School to start 2019, LHS assistant coach Blake Peek said that wrestling is an individual sport but also a team sport in which every individual match means something to the overall score. Peek isn’t wrong, and as the Devil Pups get closer to the end of the season, each individual wrestler needs to focus on his craft so the results pay off at the end.
Pender’s Earl Cottle secured his team’s 34-30 victory with a close 12-10 decision over Lejeune’s Jonathan Wyble at 160 pounds. There is no blame to be distributed to the Devil Pups on the loss because each match is an experience and lesson learned.
With the Coastal 8 Conference Tournament coming up at Trask High School on Jan. 26, there is a lot of work to be done for Lejeune. However, the Devil Pups have a lot of advantages going their way this year that will set them down the right path for the tournament competition that awaits them at the end of the month.
One of those advantages is the coaching staff. They lead these boys each day during practices and during matches. They are a major reason why the Devil Pup squad will be just fine moving forward. Lejeune head coach Jim Gardiner is tough as nails. One simply doesn’t mess around with Gardiner, and these wrestlers are learning discipline in a sport that requires it.
His two assistant coaches, Brett Becklund and Peek, are both 1st lieutenants in the Marine Corps. Maybe I am looking at this through scarlet and gold lenses, but Marine coaches add a whole new meaning to the concept of dedication, leadership and discipline.
These wrestlers at LHS are children of veterans and active-duty service members. They grew up learning about Marine Corps values. These Devil Pups understand how to behave, and fitness has been engrained in their brain since early childhood. They are young men who are adaptable to new environments, and many have moved around their whole lives, making new friends while going to school in new places.
The experienced wrestlers on the team work well with their underclassmen counterparts with the little amount of time they have spent together. Seniors George Vrachnos, Carlos Granados and Keegan McDonough are wrapping up their careers, but the Devil Pups have good talent coming up through the system. Freshman Stephen Mainz medaled and took first at the Onslow County Cup on Jan. 5.
The Devil Pups are on the right track this season. Before the year started, Vrachnos and McDonough said they wanted to win at the state championships. They have what it takes to get the job done, and the more the team works together, the better they will get.