Staff Writer

Normally, Absegami High wrestling coach Shawn Scannell has a very detailed plan for what he wants his Braves to accomplish during a particular practice.

After starting the season 2-1 with wins over Buena and Millville, Absegami got smacked around at the Williamstown Duals, going 1-3 with losses to Hunterdon Central, Brick Memorial and Haddonfield. The closest of those three losses was a 47-23 setback against the Haddons.

Since then, the practice plan has been really simplified, and includes just a handful of words.

“We set the bar kind of high this year and started off kind of slow. We wrestled in the Williamstown duals and kind of got beat up a little bit against some teams that we thought we could handle,” Scannell explained. “So we’ve been reaching back to the old-school philosophy of just grinding. With the practice sheet, I usually have it very detailed, but I said, ‘there’s no more details. Work hard and get tougher.’ That’s what we’re doing from now on. We’re just going to go out there and be tough.”

Sean Cowan recently won his 100th career match and is one of the top wrestlers in the state in the 165-pound weight class. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

Since that weekend in early January, the Braves went 6-3 to bump their season record up to 9-7 overall before taking a couple of losses in a quad meet the final weekend of January. They certainly did get tougher, ripping off four straight Cape-Atlantic League wins while also wrestling well in a 40-39 loss to Freehold Borough. The Braves came up three points short against a very good Hammonton team, and lost 48-25 to Washington Township, one of the best teams in South Jersey.

The Braves are led by senior 165-pounder Sean Cowan and senior 190-pounder George Rhodes — two guys who lost in the “blood round” at states last March, meaning they were one win away from earning a spot on the podium of the top eight wrestlers in each weight class. Those losses have seriously motivated both Cowan and Rhodes, to be so close to their goal and come up just short left some serious fire in their bellies. 

“This is my final year and I’m on a mission. I want to get as high on the podium (at the state championships) as possible, so every match I’m taking seriously and just going out and doing what I do,” said Cowan, who is an absolute monster in his weight class, looking more like a 180-pounder than 165 pounds. “The day after states last year I told myself I can’t let that happen again. I have to take it all this year. So every day I’m working harder toward that goal. I want to go as hard as possible. I think mentality-wise, I just have to go into every match harder. I fine-tuned some things, going neutral, on bottom, over the summer, and now just piecing it all together. I feel like I’m a well-rounded wrestler.”

“It’s a lot of hard work, that’s really all I can say,” Rhodes said when asked after a recent win over Oakcrest what it’s going to take to place at states. “I have all the tools available, I just have to sharpen them, and use them.”

“Those guys are both year-round wrestlers who have been doing it since they were 5 years old. They do it right. They train right, they do the extra work. They are focused and locked in. They have high goals and they want to achieve them, and we believe they can,” Scannell said. “(Cowan) is a great kid. He gets the big picture. He bounced back from that loss, put it on himself and said, ‘I’m betting on me. I’m going to get it done.’ And he hasn’t stopped training since that match. He lives in the weight room, but that’s what you have to do. You have to do all the little stuff, and that’s exactly what he does. And George is the same way. He was in the blood round last year, and he eats, sleeps and lives wrestling. We think they are going to accomplish what they want to accomplish. We believe in them.”

Absegami has just a few more regular-season matches to try to get guys such as Aidan Torres (132 pounds), Christopher Eaton (144), Julian Rivera (157), Brayden Wright (175) and others ready for districts. 

“We just want to see progress,” Scannell said. “We want them to go out there and fight. We’re looking for the younger guys to progress. We have five or six sophomores and juniors who we want to take that next step. It comes down to how much are you willing to do in the room and how much are you going to fight for your teammates? That’s what we’re looking for. Progress.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays