By Roger Wistar
The varsity wrestling team looks to capitalize on new leadership and a strong group of talented athletes to build a strong foundation for years to come.
To replace outgoing coach Jesse Young, the program has tapped its recent history, putting Cooper Puls '11 at the helm. Puls distinguished himself on the mat at Hotchkiss, placing twice at New Englands. Following his collegiate wrestling career at NYU, Puls coached for two years at The Buckley School.
Thus far, Puls has earned high praise from the boys. "Coach Puls is an incredible coach that is highly respected by his wrestlers," said co-captain Josh McCarthy '18. "He pushes everybody to get the most out of them and expects nothing less than your best."
Thus far, the transition has been a smooth one, said Puls. "So far, they've been great, buying in to the new system," he said.
Puls was quick to credit Young for developing the returning wrestlers, pointing to the team's third-place finish at the season-opening Hopkins tournament as a testament to their strong base of skills.
The team will have a significantly new look this season, however, with nine of the 21 wrestlers on the roster being new to the team. Puls said he was excited to have such a large group of new talent to work with, noting that he can help them all find styles that suit them best.
"When you have that fresh blood, kids who have never wrestled before or never wrestled for Hotchkiss, you can teach a way that suits where they are physically," he said.
Thus far the approach has been to attack, said McCarthy. "His aggressive style of wrestling is very well received by the team. Everybody loves trying out the new moves we learn in practice," he said.
McCarthy, who hails from the same Canadian program as former champion Angus Cowell '14, is one of several wrestlers who should headline the program. In the 220-pound weight class, McCarthy is a bit light, but has superior physical skills, said Puls. His experience wrestling freestyle in Canada also gives him a leg up over traditional folkstyle wrestlers, added Puls.
Another Canadian who could make an impact this season is newcomer Nick Adams '19, who will wrestle at 132. Like McCarthy, Adams can use his freestyle skills effectively in the neutral position. As the season progresses, Adams will need to work on his mat skills to round out his game, said Puls.
Two returning lower mids, Tiki Crider '20 and A.J. Caba '20, should also provide some fireworks for the team this season. Crider and Puls already have a coaching connection, with the two having worked together at Buckley. Wrestling at 152 pounds, Crider blends technical skills and physical ability into a strong overall package, said Puls.
"He can get into a match and in 30 seconds see what his opponent's strengths and weaknesses are," said Puls. "He's a pleasure to coach because at a break in the action, you can call him over and say, do this and this, and he understands. A lot of times he has already seen those things before I point them out to him."
Caba, who has moved up from 132 to 138 this year, should be able to continue his impressive performance thus far. Last year as a prep, he finished third at Westerns and fifth at New Englands, qualifying him for Prep Nationals.
"Every time I think that I have two more years of coaching him, it's very exciting because he's already one of the best wrestlers on the team," said Puls.