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SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – As one of only two seniors wrestling for a young Jefferson High School program, A.J. Pierson has discovered it’s often best to lead by example.
Thus far, the 182-pound veteran seems to have found the going to be pretty good.
Pierson and fellow senior Wyatt Phillips took 4-of-5 individual matches Saturday, Jan. 4 as Jefferson finished third of six teams during the 41st annual Jefferson Invitational Duals Tournament at Jefferson High School.
The Cougars earned team victories against John Handley, North Marion and Moorefield, but fell to eventual tournament champion Hedgesville and runner-up Hampshire. Jefferson also witnessed strong outings from underclassmen Dante McCarroll and Sam Kosanovich, who both were undefeated in their matches on the afternoon.
But for a Jefferson program that finished fourth a year ago at regionals and sent seven participants to the state tournament in Huntington, the offseason hit hard with graduation losses.
So it’s been especially important for Pierson to experience the kind of early season success he enjoyed at the Max Horz Invitational at Berkeley Springs, as well as during matches at Hedgesville and Musselman, which has seen him climb to the Class AAA No. 3 ranking in the state in his weight class.
“I definitely have had to take on more of a leadership role this year,” Pierson said. “We have a lot of younger guys on the team now, so it’s been important to guide them in a sense and help them learn to progress as wrestlers.
“I think overall as a team we’re doing fairly well,” he added. “We lost a lot of seniors this past year so it’s been pretty hard for us to do as well and be as competitive as we were last year. But I think given the amount of talent we had and the number of young guys, we’re still being pretty competitive.”
Pierson and the Cougars are set for a telling match Jan. 15 against Musselman and Washington.
“In the next couple of weeks I wrestle both the No. 1 and No. 2 in my weight class,” Pierson said. “(David) Stas at Musselman and (Zane) Bradbury at Washington are both good wrestlers. We just need to continue to improve.”
Jefferson coach Derrick Conner said both Pierson and Phillips have been filling the leadership role well.
“They’ve both been successful and wrestling tough this year,” Conner said. “It’s a good example for the younger guys.
Overall, “we’re getting tough performances from our veterans and the new guys are still going through and learning the process and how to wrestle and getting themselves acclimated to the sport,” Conner added. “Things are going as good as can be expected. We have some forfeits we’re giving up. We definitely have some progress to be made between now and February.”