When Coach Alan Paul arrived at St. John’s 12 and a half years ago, his goal was to raise the level of the wrestling program and compete for an SPC championship. At that time he never imagined that St. John’s would be competitive at the national level.
They were just trying to take care of the neighborhood teams of Episcopal and Kinkaid. St. Mark’s of Dallas was in total control of the SPC. Seven years later St. John’s won their first SPC title in 2013. They have since won five and two years ago they captured their first state title. No longer an inner-loop program, the Mavericks have expanded their horizons beyond the SPC and state to get a grip on the national wrestling scene.
“We are still searching for our first All-American wrestler,” said Coach Paul.
In order to become an All-American high school wrestler, competitors must finish in the top eight at the National Prep Wrestling Tournament held at Lehigh University. St. John’s has been sending individual wrestlers to this event for years, yet no Maverick wrestler has made it in the top eight. Wesley Gow ’19, Layo Laniyan ’18, Josh Thomas ’17, and Yo Akiyama ’16 finished in the top 12. They all earned the chance by finishing in the top three at the state level.
How can the Mavs mat men move up the ladder at the nationals? Better competition. For the second year in a row, St. John’s has attended the Prep Slam
held in Atlanta, Georgia on the first weekend in January. It’s by far the biggest private school tournament of the year with over 50 teams in attendance, and performances can help with seeding for the Prep Nationals held in Lehigh, PA. Last year they finished in the lower half of the standings. This year they just returned with an eleventh place finish led by a second-place performance by Harrison Fernelius ’19 and a third-place finish from Roman Lewis ’19.
“It used to be that the national competition was out of reach,” said Fernelius. Now we had guys with multiple wins. This is a huge testament to where we are now. It’s a different level of competition. All of the wrestlers have a high skill level in the sport. If we can compete there, then we can compete anywhere.”
“There are a higher percentage of really good wrestlers at the national tournament,” said Roman Lewis.
“At the tournament, we learned from our mistakes,” said assistant coach Alberto Hernandez, a former world champion in the sport. “We are getting there little by little.”
Fernelius and Lewis will also benefit with a seeding placement at the Prep Nationals
, which takes place on February 22-23.
“The main reason we attend this tournament is to get experience against the best competition,” said Paul.
The Mavericks now have some swagger built on experience that little by little can help them be their best no matter where they are.
Sam Chambers -Athletic News