Matt Newman is used to quick starts. So his 19-0 record to open this wrestling season is practically last year's news.
This is the third time in four years the Mount Pleasant wrestler has started a season with at least 10 straight victories. Fresh off a second consecutive title at the Mount Pleasant Invitational and a win at the Jerry Hampton Invitational at Central Davidson High, Newman wants to keep the momentum going.
A state qualifier last season, Newman is confident his extra mat time away from his high school practices has prepared him to make a run at a state championship.
Newman won his first 10 matches as a 112-pound freshman, but the competition caught up with him, and he finished with a 25-19 overall record. Newman still won a Rocky River 1A/2A Conference championship and qualified for regionals.
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Advancing to the second round of consolations, Newman would learn a valuable lesson that still motivates him today. He was leading his match by a 14-1 margin in the final seconds but let his guard down and got pinned.
"I was trying to finish a takedown," Newman said. "It was an awkward scramble and he caught me."
Calling it his "worst season," Newman's record slipped to 27-22 during his sophomore year, when he wrestled at 119 pounds. Still, Newman said some of the tougher competition he faced that year helped him improve his skills.
As a junior, Newman won his first 20 matches in the 125-pound division. After his first loss, Mount Pleasant's team competed in a top-level tournament at Cary. Newman was encouraged by his sixth-place finish because he had never placed as high in his previous two campaigns.
After taking second place at the South Piedmont 3A Conference tournament, Newman moved on to regionals despite a painful wrist injury. He won two matches before dropping an 8-5 decision to A.L. Brown's Patrice Donatien.
Newman wrestled back to the consolation finals, where he lost again to Donatien. He placed fourth at the tournament, good enough to qualify him for the state tournament.
Admittedly awed by the state championship environment, Newman lost his first two matches and was knocked out of the tournament. He finished the season with a 30-13 record.
Besides the direction he's received from Mount Pleasant coaches Greg Hinson and Randy Kaiser, Newman, now a senior, credits the improvement he's made since his sophomore year to the work he put in with Todd Fulk, a parent of a former Mount Pleasant teammate who has a wrestling mat at his home.
Several Tigers wrestlers train with Fulk in the off-season and at least once a week during the season, including junior William Robbins, Newman's drill partner. Over the summer, during which he attended an intensive camp at Appalachian State, Newman concentrated on improving his takedowns.
"What's made him better all the way around," Hinson said, "is working very hard in the off-season."
Before the Mount Pleasant Invitational, Newman had little opportunity to work on his new techniques. Earning forfeits in seven of his first 12 matches, Newman wasn't gaining the match time he coveted in the early season.
At his team's home tourney Dec. 10, Newman won two matches, including a 4-2 overtime decision over West Stanly's Joseph Graves, to win the championship.
Newman's goals this year include winning the SPC, regional and state championships.
"I like to set my goals high," he said, "because if I don't, I don't accomplish as much."