After working on his skills in the offseason, Hough wrestler Palmer Maples decided that he belonged in big matches.
That self-confidence has allowed the junior to become a key contributor for the Huskies while also earning him a No. 5 ranking in the state among 4A 160-pounders according to retrorankings.com
Hough coach Tripp Rogers says that Maples' mental change has really made a difference on the mat this season.
"As soon as you get that confidence going, it's hard to stop you," said Rogers.
He added that although Maples started wrestling up to his potential late last year, when he was 32-21, he still had to do some work
"I wasn't mentally there yet," Maples conceded. "But I've brought that up."
That momentum has carried over throughout the summer and to this season. The 17-year-old has started the year with a 37-4 record and was tied for most pins for the Huskies with 21 heading into the I-Meck conference tournament last weekend.
But Maples isn't letting his early success go to his head, knowing that he'll have to prove himself in his first trip to states.
"You can't be too confident," he said. "I try to stay as humble as I can."
Rogers said that if Maples continues to wrestle the way he has throughout the year, he should be competitive.
"I don't see any reason why he shouldn't at least win the region," said Rogers.
The second-year coach explained that Maples knows his strengths and uses them to his advantage on the mat. "It's not fancy, but he's going to score and wear you out," said Rogers.
He added that Maples is a strong wrestler on the top position and hand fights on his feet to drain opponents' upper-body strength.
"He stays in good position and makes you earn every point," Rogers said. "He's not giving anything up."
The 5-foot-9 Maples said he hopes to continue to improve, especially on his sprawls - a defensive technique used to counteract some takedown attempts - and his shots to get better prepared for the postseason.
"I just have to keep working and never stop," he said. "I can't take a day off."
Maples is only one of several Husky wrestlers who have shown improvement and led Hough (16-4) to a third-place finish in the I-Meck 4A behind Mooresville and Lake Norman - the only conference teams to defeat the Huskies in dual meets this year.
Sophomore Jacob Efird (28-8), as well as juniors Adam Nivens (36-9), Steven Owens (26-15) and Tanner Russ (41-8) have also had good years.
"We improved a lot," said Maples, who admits that close losses to the Blue Devils and the Wildcats in the last two weeks were disappointing. "We could've done better in our conference. On the big matches, we slipped."
He added that he will continue to push his teammates and himself the rest of the year, hoping to prove that he does belong in those big matches at the state meet later this month.