Cuthbertson’s Walther wrestling with a championship focus
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Friday, Jan. 17, 2014

Cuthbertson’s Walther wrestling with a championship focus

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- COURTESY OF HILDA SWANEPOEL
Cuthbertson junior wrestler Joe Walther takes a business-like approach to his matches. He’s ranked No. 2 in the state 3A class at 182 pounds.

Shortly before a match, Joe Walther often can be heard joking with a teammate or coach, or just talking about whatever is on his mind at the time.

But moments later, when it comes time to think about his next opponent, the Cuthbertson junior can turn on a business-like approach and intensity that few can match.

Walther, 17, is 96-33 (as of Jan. 15) in the last two-plus seasons at Cuthbertson. He also is the starting middle linebacker for the Cuthbertson football team, where he totaled 212 tackles in his sophomore and junior seasons.

“Joe is one of those guys who is just instantly likeable and always fun to be around, and always has something to say,” Cuthbertson wrestling coach Dan Hartman said. “But when it’s time to get down to business, he is completely focused on the task at hand. Joe has already become a great leader for us, and is the hardest worker on our team.

“Some people just have what it takes, they just get it, they are born with it.”

Walther admits he has a different persona on and off the mat. “I try not to take things too seriously all the time, because that can hurt you,” Walther said. “But once I get on the mat, I’m a different person. My goal is to go out and dominate my opponent.”

Walther started competing on the mat in the second grade in Cresskill, N.J., where he grew up.

When his family moved to the Charlotte area when he was entering the fourth grade, there wasn’t a team for him to wrestle with.

He got back on the mat with the Weddington Middle School team, where he first started to work with Hartman, head coach at Weddington Middle at the time.

Walther flourished under Hartman, who says he often held his own with eighth-graders.

But after Walther finished sixth grade, he was redistricted to the new Cuthbertson Middle School. He reunited with Hartman when the coach took over the Cuthbertson High varsity program Walther’s freshman season.

Walther went 30-15 in his freshman year, finishing sixth at regionals in the 160-weight pound weight class, one win short of qualifying for the individual state tournament.

Walther got even better in his sophomore campaign, going 46-15 and finishing as Rocky River conference and 2A Midwest Regional runner-up. He placed fifth at the 2A individual state championships.

“I’ve had a big advantage with Joe, being able to coach him since the fifth grade,” Hartman said. “He’s improved each year and is still hungry to be even better.”

Walther also enjoys working with Hartman, a standout high school wrestler at Shaler (Pa.) High and in college at Bucknell University.

“The biggest thing is that I know I can trust coach Hartman, I know he knows what he is doing,” Walther said. “Having wrestled himself, he can see things from our perspective. He has helped me a lot.”

Hartman said he believes Walther would be even better if he didn’t split time with football. Hartman also admits Walther likely is a college prospect in both sports, which has made it hard for him to favor one over the other.

“My favorite sport is what is in season, what I’m doing at the time,” said Walther, who also boasts a 4.0 GPA. “I’m really not sure which one I would pick if I had to. So right now I’m keeping my options open.”

After a 108-tackle season for the Cavalier football team, Walther wasted no time getting on the mat. He finished football Nov. 15, a Friday, and was at wrestling practice the following Monday.

Walther, 5-foot-10, also lost about 12 to 15 pounds in a few weeks to take himself from more than 190 pounds to his 182-pound weight class.

“I was expecting him to be at 195 or even 220,” Hartman said. “But he got back down to 182 in a hurry.”

“It can be tough at times, because in football, they want me to gain weight and in wrestling they want me to cut it,” Walther said. “For the most part, the weight just comes off naturally.”

Walther can bench-press 300 pounds, squat 400 and has about 5 percent body fat. That strength has allowed Walther to get off to another strong start this season at 21-3 (as of Jan. 15), including the individual title at the Bobby Abernathy Invitational at Piedmont.

Walther is ranked No. 2 in the state 3A class at 182 pounds, according to retrorankings.com, but he recently had to take three weeks off because of sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee.

Both Walther and Hartman believe Walther can be at his best when it matters most, starting with the conference tournament Feb. 1, then into the 3A Midwest Regional on Feb. 14-15 and the 3A individual state tournament Feb. 20-22.

While Walther is constantly motivated to reach his own goals, he also found inspiration from former teammate Cody Walker (now wrestling at Coker College), who won two straight individual state championships, the first to do so in Cuthbertson High School history.

“My main goal is to win a state championship, and that is something I think about every day in practice, every time I’m in the weight room, every time I want to take a break and don’t,” Walther said.

“Of course, I also want to win conference and regional championships along the way because that’s something I haven’t done. I want to keep building on my success and prove myself that I can do it.”

This story went to print before a dual meet at Piedmont on Jan. 16 and the Redhawk Duals at Monroe Jan. 18.

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at jedwardsjr23@gmail.com.

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