The Phoenix varsity wrestling team comes into the season looking to fill the voids left behind by Nick Tighe and Rowdy Prior.
In fact, Coach Gene Mills suggests that in many ways, this season will be a rebuilding year, which is uncharted territory for Mills and the Firebirds.
The Firebirds inexperienced team is striving to learn and develop one match at a time. However, Mills is allowing only so much cushioning for his young team. He hopes his wrestlers show significant individual and team development by mid- to late January.
Mills is quick to mention that this season’s team might be one of the most inexperienced teams that he’s coached at Phoenix.
The Firebirds return only two junior and senior starters from last year’s team, which means a lot will be expected of lone senior Jason Nipper, junior Derrick Button and sophomores Brad Dietz, Will Hilliard and Tim Gandino.
However, Phoenix does feature many younger wrestlers with an abundance of potential. “(Our younger kids) need to find out where we are and where we need to go to get where we want to be”, Mills said.
When practice began in early November, Mills expected his wrestlers to show up in decent physical condition. In fact, it is a known fact the wrestlers will be physically tested from the first day of practice.
Mills felt the physical conditioning of his team was questionable at best during the first few days of practice. However, this is a bit of an issue that coaches have come to expect over the years. Wrestlers always get to work knowing that their physical conditioning will develop more and more as December approaches. Mills feels his team’s physical conditioning has improved greatly since early November.
The Firebirds practice for two hours every day, working hard on many skills development drills which tend to develop their bodies’ abilities at a solid pace.
Mills has yet to name captains for the upcoming season. He said his captains are expected to be impressive individuals socially, academically and athletically regardless of what grade a wrestler may be in.
Those named as captains may not necessarily be the best wrestlers on the team, but are the individuals who show the most initiative towards being a role model socially and in the classroom as well as within the sport of wrestling itself.
Phoenix looks forward to the opportunity to take part in the challenging dual tournaments awaiting them. The Firebirds will be a little banged up during their dual meets but they expect to be fully recovered and even more competitive by early to mid-January.
Returning Sectional Place Winners Brad Dietz, Tim Gandino and Will Hilliard are expected to be a major strength for Phoenix this season. Dietz, Gandino and Hilliard clearly have what it takes to step up and be leadership figures for the Firebirds. Their guidance will be key in the development of the many hardworking younger wrestlers Phoenix will feature this season. Mills suggests with the right leadership, his younger wrestlers could begin to see their hard work pay off during the second half of the season.