Cherry Hill East girls wrestling coach Steve Ascola, a former Cougar himself, remembers the positive impact that came from writing down his high-school goals and actively working toward them.
One of his former football coaches encouraged him and his teammates in that practice, so Ascola took a similar approach with junior Maya Hemo before the start of last year’s wrestling season.
After a freshman year in which an injury sidelined Hemo during the team’s final regular-season match and ahead of the regional tournament, Ascola had the then-sophomore wrestler write down her goals for what she wanted to achieve during each upcoming season and what she wanted to accomplish by the end of senior year.
Hemo’s ultimate goal, at first, was to qualify for the state championship by the end of her high-school career. Ascola thought she was selling herself way short.
“I told her right then and there that she would’ve made it her freshman year if she wasn’t hurt,” Ascola said. “I raised the goals for her right after that; she was pretty naturally talented at first, and she’s a really hard-working kid, but it was just a matter of her building some confidence throughout that sophomore year.”
Hemo qualified for the state meet during her sophomore season, proving Ascola’s approach was the right one. But more impressively, after a full off-season of increased workouts and a strength-training plan last summer, Hemo recently crossed off another goal that she may not have anticipated reaching: an NJSIAA 2022 South Region girls wrestling championship.
Following an undefeated day in which she went 4-0 at Kingsway High School to secure the 126-pound title, Hemo increased her season record to 18-1, while also bringing her career win total to 36. She made history as the first girl in Cherry Hill East wrestling history to win a South Region title.
Looking back, Hemo said the success she’s found this season after two years of work has been unlike anything else she’s experienced.
“It’s been crazy to go through,” Hemo said. “Each year, the sport and practices and everything have just been so different, from freshman year, where I was still learning, to this year, where I’m wrestling with the varsity guys and the JV guys in the actual wrestling room.”
Ascola’s confidence in Hemo has helped her develop her game on the mat in the last 12 months, get stronger and more technically sound, and make school history with the region championship.
“I definitely did not think I had all this in me,” Hemo said. “Coach Ascola has been my biggest supporter and really pushed me to be the best version of myself. For that, I’m so incredibly grateful.”