The Washington Township High School wrestling team played the role of the underdog last year. The Minutemen ended their playoff drought by earning the eight seed before running into the buzzsaw that was Southern Regional High School in the first round of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group Five tournament.
This year, head Coach Eric Ring has other plans for his squad.
“This year, the goal is to get back in the playoffs and not sneak in as the eight seed,” he said. “Get there, get a little better and make some noise in the playoffs.”
A simple goal, right? With leaders on the team who properly set the tone for what Washington Township wrestling is, the sky’s the limit.
Sophomore Ethan Wilson, a state qualifier last season, is setting the bar high for himself and his teammates.
“You know the saying ‘You’re only as strong as your weakest link?’ That’s how everybody is,” Wilson said. “Say one person is having trouble in the practice room, you gotta bring them up. Keep pushing pace in the practice room to get better and better. Drive the team to meet your goals and theirs.”
This is done by having the proper mindset, in Wilson’s opinion.
“My goal is to be a state champion. I can’t win state and have a state qualifier mindset or a region place-winner mindset. I have to give it my all even when I’m not feeling good. Like today, I had a headache. I’m sick but I still go hard,” he said. “I gotta make sure every one of my teammates are doing that if they want to get where they want to be.”
While Wilson’s sight is set purely on standing atop the podium in Atlantic City this March, Jack Dunn is a little more reserved.
“Our goal is always take it one match at a time; win matches one by one,” he explained. “Whatever comes, comes. If playoffs come, playoffs come. I know that’s the end goal, but we’re more focused on the short-term goals, taking it match by match.”
Two separate styles of leadership but both are effective. With Wilson’s eyes on the end prize and Dunn keeping the ground level for the team, the possibilities are endless, especially with the work ethic shown by its leaders.
“I have a lot of big goals this year; I want to make sure I achieve those goals or at least do my best to achieve those goals,” Dunn added. “I don’t wanna look back on the season and say ‘I could have done this.’ I’m gonna maximize my effort and my potential.”
While Dunn preached patience, he acknowledged his goal is to go as far as he can in the season-ending tournaments such as districts, regions and states.
“I just want to win, I want to put points on the board for my team,”
Ring knows the team is in good hands with Wilson and Dunn at the helm.
“Ethan’s a kid who eats, sleeps and loves wrestling — everything he does is wrestling. I don’t know if he owns other shoes besides wrestling shoes,” Ring joked. “He’s just a pleasure to have.”
Dunn, according to Ring, is the opposite.
“He does everything,” the coach said. “Varsity football player, big-time wrestler, plays cello in the orchestra. He’s the most well-rounded kid I’ve ever been around.
“They’re fantastic leaders and they’re the epitome of student athletes.”
The bookends are a reflection of the culture Ring instilled when he became head coach three years ago.
“I look a lot to me being a graduate here and being at Washington Township when we had a lot of success and when we were getting a lot of state medals and competing for South Jersey and New Jersey titles as a team, trying to get back to that,” he noted.
“It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, a lot of sacrifice and kids buying into that growth and buying into what wrestling is. I see the kids take to that and look to take it to the next level this year.”
The Washington Township High School wrestling team is hungry, not because it is cutting weight, but for success. The team kicks off its season Dec. 21 and 22 at the Beast of the East tournament at the University of Delaware. Dunn is looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s exhilarating, it’s exciting, they’re the best people to wrestle,” he said. “The best way to get better is to throw yourself in the fire.”