The rumble of wrestling shoes against mats and cement floors blended with wrestlers’ heavy breathing. “Levels!” yelled Hopkins School varsity wrestling coach Adam Sperling. Sixteen high-school wrestlers clapped in unison, lowering their wrestling stance, and turned to face the opposite direction.
And so condition drills continued as Hopkins wrestlers prepared to start the 2015–16 season.
With four seniors graduating and leaving the team last year, Sperling is prepping some inexperienced wrestlers—with a goal of ranking at the top of the school’s athletic division championship.
“We’re going to be pretty good this season,” said Sperling, “but we don’t have the experience. We are going to out work everyone.”
The conditioning began Nov. 16; the season opener is Saturday, away at Williston Northampton School.
Hopkins, a private school located on Forest Road in New Haven, serves students in grades 7–12. The wrestling team competes in the Western New England Independent School Wrestling Association (WNEISA) against college preparatory schools like Canterbury School and Choate Rosemary Hall.
Based on their results throughout the season and at the WNEISA Championship, winners then compete at the New England Prep School Championship in hopes of making it to the highest level of competition, the National Prep School Championship.
The team is now preparing mentally, but mostly physically, for the season in hopes of challenging the other 20 college prep high schools that compete in the division and proceeding to the higher level competitions.
The conditioning or prep for the season lasts about two and a half hours per day and consists of cardio and acrobatic workouts followed by going over various wrestling techniques.
See the drills in the video below.
For Mack Reiferson, a freshman at Hopkins and a new addition to the wrestling team and wrestling in general, it has been a challenging start.
“Coming into wrestling I didn’t 100 percent know what I was getting myself into,” said Reiferson. “For the past few days, especially mentally, the warm-up is extremely challenging. Time seems like it goes by very slowly but pushing through that I’m going to see a lot of growth with perseverance and hard work.”
Sperling, a math teacher at Hopkins, expects academics to be first on his athletes’ priorities list whether they are conditioning and prepping for the season or if the season is underway.
“Academics is priority number one,” said Sperling. “We tell the guys all the time, yeah wrestling is fun and playing sports is great but if you can’t pull your weight in the classroom then you can’t be here pulling your weight on the mat.”
Grant Hill, a senior wrestler from Easton, said he agrees with the coach.
“It’s really about priorities,” said Hill, who mentioned he doesn’t have a Facebook in order to avoid more distractions.
Hear more from Hill in the audio clip below.
Not only does the coach expect the wrestlers to keep up with academics; he also expects them to stay healthy and clean.
At the end of a recent conditioning session Sperling gathered in a huddle with the team.
“I should see fresh clothes tomorrow,” Sperling said as he reminded the wrestlers to eat, shower and do their homework.
“A big stigma with wrestling is there’s skin diseases that can go around and a lot of that comes from bacteria being tracked onto the mats,” said Sperling.
To avoid health problems, he sets up a mop schedule where the upperclassmen rotate and properly clean the mats before the practice begins. The coach even has a blood-cleaning station set up in case any accident does occur.
Sperling, Hill and Reiferson said they expect a season full of hard work. Hill is aiming to reach the state level tournament, the WNEISA championship, as he did last season. He also plans on making his first appearance in the New England and National Prep School championships.
“I think these guys can be pretty successful,” said Sperling.
The team placed sixth out of 21 teams last season at the WNEISA Championship with 120 points. This year the wrestlers are aiming to make the top three, according to Sperling. The team has 10 matches lined up for the season and two tournaments before going to the WNEIS Championship on Feb. 13, 2016.
“As long as we build on that,” said the coach referring to last season’s results, “and the boys are happy and enjoying it, then that means I’m doing a good job.”
This article was reported by Southern Connecticut State University students as part of a partnership between the Multimedia Journalism class and the New Haven Independent.