There’s no worrying about the South Effingham Mustangs wrestling team getting complacent after last year’s finish. Not if Tom Onorato has anything to do with it.
The Mustangs finished seventh at the Class AAA traditionals and had five wrestlers take home medals, including third-place finishes from Robbie Collum and Adam Morse. But there is no time to rest on the laurels of the program’s best year ever.
“I think it’s pretty simple,” Onorato said of his motivation tool. “Nobody won it. We didn’t win it as a team. We’re always going to work hard to win state titles as a team and work hard to win as individuals. I don’t know of anything that’s going to motivate you more than you haven’t won a state championship.”
The Mustangs graduated only three seniors last year, though two of them — Tyvone Rushin and Taylor Medlin — finished in the top six in their weight classes at the state traditionals. So Onorato and his staff bring back a team that is heavy in youth and also strong in experience.
“It’s a pretty unique blend,” Onorato said. “We know we have some kids coming back with some very high expectations. It’s exciting to see how it unfolds throughout the season.”
Six Mustangs won area championships last year, and only one was a senior. That success can serve as a platform for another strong season, if not a better one.
“It does help to have success from last year’s group,” Onorato said. “They take you a little more seriously.”
The program is growing — there are 40 kids out for wrestling, and many are just finishing their duties with football and cross country. Meanwhile, Onorato and his coaches are trying to get the newer wrestlers used to the fundamentals of the sport.
“It’s a stop-and-start type situation,” he said. “We haven’t had enough mat time with the young guys to find that diamond in the rough. We have a lot of guys walking on to the mat for the first time. It’s a matter of us teaching them and them wanting to take ownership of it. But we’re excited about the young guys.”
All the wrestlers, seasoned champions and novices, will be sternly tested in their first meet, a Wednesday home date with three-time state champ West Laurens, Elbert County, Camden County and Benedictine.
“We know we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Onorato said. “We know it will be a good early test for our guys.”
The schedule is geared to getting the Mustangs ready for the area traditional tournament in February and the state tournament that follows.
“We still approach it the same,” Onorato said. “Everything is geared toward getting ready for February. We’re not in a rush. It’s more important to finish strong. We’ve got the pieces in so we can get rolling in the right direction. I’m pleased so far with the efforts of our team.
“I think we’ve got a good group of guys,” he added. “I think they understand what they are working for. They understand it’s not going to come easy. They have to work for it.”