After losing 10 starters last season, East Lincoln wrestling coach Saul Sheck didn't have high expectations for his young team.
"I was hoping that we would win two matches - maybe three matches," he admitted.
But the Mustangs started the season strong, winning their first nine matches in a row on the way to an undefeated record going into their conference schedule.
"I'm definitely shocked," said Sheck. "I didn't think there was a possibility that we'd even win five matches this year."
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Sheck said he credits his team's focus and determination in overcoming the loss of so much talent, which he said allowed East Lincoln to get to their hot start.
"A lot of guys had to step up, and they have been up to the challenge," he said. "If they keep this up, they have a chance of going 14-2, 15-1."
Jordan Handy and Jeremy Tarleton are helping to carry the team. Handy has an 11-1 individual record, while Tarleton is 9-3 this season through Jan. 6.
Sheck said the two wrestlers have the best chance to go to states this year from his squad.
The coach spoke highly of Tarleton, who is starting for the Mustangs in the 145-pound weight class as a freshman.
"He has the chance to be one of the best to have come through East Lincoln," said Sheck.
In addition to Handy and Tarleton, Sheck said he has been impressed with 215-pounder Robert Sparrow, who is 10-2, and 171-pounder Timmy Gordon, who is 8-3 through Jan 6. Sheck said that these four wrestlers have the best chance to make it to regionals, which he admits is more than he expected to take to the February tournament.
Sheck said Handy, the team's 140-pounder, and Sparrow have become better leaders this season, which has helped his team come together and grow confident.
Although Sheck has been surprised by his team's performance, his team is not. Sheck said that his wrestlers had the mentality that they were going to be good before the season.
"I just told them, 'alright, we'll see what happens,'" he said. "I think they have the confidence that they can win, which is what you need in this sport."
Now that his team has demonstrated what they can accomplish, Sheck has lofty goals for the Mustangs. He wants his team to finish the season top two in the Southern Piedmont 2A conference and to have seven or eight wrestlers participate at the regional tournament.
"If we took two or three guys to states I'd be ecstatic," he said.
For the past three seasons, the Mustangs are 41-17. Sheck said he believes that's the best three-year run in school history.
Last season, East Lincoln made it to the state 2A dual team playoffs for the first time in more than 15 years. The team lost in the first round to Mount Pleasant. Sheck said if the team only loses one or two matches they can make it back to the playoffs.
The conference only has one automatic bid, which Sheck expects will go to perennial favorites West Lincoln, leaving his Mustangs to fight for a wildcard bid against improved conference rivals Lincolnton and North Lincoln.
Even though they defeated several 3A and 4A squads such as Forestview and North Meck, many of these teams have had down seasons.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, Sheck said he is proud of his squad.
"It's definitely been a pleasant surprise."