Lake Norman & Mooresville

Wrestler hopes to propel Vikings

Although Joe DiDonato has high goals for himself, after going 32-4 and taking third place in the 135-pound class at regionals last season, those pale in comparison to keeping the North Mecklenburg wrestling program alive.

It's no surprise why that's so important to DiDonato.

His team doesn't have enough wrestlers to compete at every weight class, being short in five categories, which has been a large reason why the Vikings started the season 1-8.

"It's been really hard with all these schools opening up," said DiDonato. "That's why it's important to show the younger kids that it is worth it to put in this much work - that it will help them in the long-run."

The 152-pounder, along with fellow seniors Latham York and Hunter Siper, have taken it upon themselves to show the way for the Vikings.

The three lead the team in all categories - wins, takedowns and falls. DiDonato, who has been wrestling since age 5, said he tries to help his teammates with their technique, while York has taken more of a vocal leadership role on the squad.

York knows it was important for him and the others to help the team prosper.

"The team's performance this year will have a lot to do with how many people come out for the team next year and years after that," he said, explaining that the group of guys on the team is starting to come together.

"It's cool to see the guys enjoy it and become a part of our wrestling family."

First-year North Meck coach Sean Finkbeiner said he's glad to have guys like DiDonato, Siper and York on his team.

"I was fortunate that we had great seniors who stepped up and are leading by example," he said.

Finkbeiner, a former All-American wrestler at Penn State, may have been the right guy to take over the program.

The coach said he's gone back to basics to get the team on the right track - to build a "heart of a champion" mentality at North Meck.

Finkbeiner is pushing his wrestlers until they can't go any further, explaining that crying and vomiting are common-place in the dingy North Meck wrestling room.

"We push ourselves in the practice room so that when we get on the mat against our opponents, we can take them to a place they've never been," he said.

Finkbeiner added that the work they've put in is already paying off.

"We're short in so many weights, so our record does not reflect how well we're doing," he said, explaining that the Vikings could be 6-3 if only their head-to-head match-ups counted. "That's not bad, considering that our team is very inexperienced."

Finkbeiner said he and his team are looking forward to greater things in the future. How well DiDonato, York and a few others do could play a major role on how the program fares.

DiDonato, who hopes he and his teammates will keep better as the season progresses, seems to be thriving in his new coach's system.

DiDonato has gotten the year off to a good start, winning 12 of his first 14 matches and finishing fourth at the Mecklenburg County Tournament earlier this month. But the 17-year-old admits that there's a lot for him to do.

"My conditioning level is not 100 percent yet," he said. "When I get my body to where it needs to be, I can definitely reach my goals."

Those include winning a conference and state title. DiDonato, who's ranked eighth in the state at 152 pounds by retrorankings.com, hopes that making an impact this season clears the way for him to earn a spot on a college team, which he admits is his ultimate personal goal.

To get to that level, DiDonato said he will spend countless of hours training - perfecting his technique and getting all of his "cobwebs" out.

After getting taller and becoming stronger in the offseason, the 5-foot-6 wrestler moved up two weight classes this year.

But DiDonato, who York describes as a technician on the mat, will soon move down to 145, a weight he feels better fits him.

DiDonato said he's using what his team is going through and his disappointing experience at states last year, where he finished in seventh place at 135, as motivation to become a champion.

"It's like I got a steak in front of me and I'm on a treadmill trying to catch it," he said. "I've got to have it."

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