COLLINGSWOOD – The first time you meet Collingswood freshman Andrew Clark one thing is clear, the 106-pounder is motivated by challenges.
Clark, who won by pin over Gateway’s Jim Whitfield in Collingswood’s 33-27 Colonial Conference win, has been one of the more impressive freshman this season in South Jersey. His 21-4 record includes a sixth place finish at the Escape the Rock Tournament and has him as high as third in South Jersey at his weight. Of course, it’s that distinction that had the youngster disappointed.
“I was hoping to get (Dante) Minnnino but that wasn’t the right call for the team,” Clark said on Friday night when he was bumped to 112 and away from the favorite to win this year’s state title at 106. “That’s a big difference this year. In middle school, it’s a little more focused on individual numbers. This year, I’ve really learned that high school wrestling has a lot more of a team approach.
“It’s different. Yeah, wrestling doesn’t change but I think I’ve enjoyed the team aspect more this year. Maybe it’s because this is such a great team to be a part of.”
That’s true enough as Collingswood has elevated itself to the fourth spot in the SJSD rankings with an impressive 18-2 record against one of the more challenging schedules in the region. The Panthers have a legitimate shot at a Group 2 crown but understand they still have one regular season challenge ahead of them as No.1 Paulsboro will play host to the Panthers next Friday.
Clark will be ready for the Red Raiders but also understands that there are plenty of big matches left to wrestle.
“It’s a long season,” Clark said. “With what we’ve already accomplished I think we can really do something special in the state tournament. I haven’t really thought beyond this team getting a state title at this point.”
“He’s been everything and more than we had hoped for when he was coming up through our middle school system,” Collingswood head coach Dechlin Moody said. “It’s not always easy to get a young kid to buy into a system. We’ve worked hard to build a way of doing things at Collingswood and we’re built around a team concept.
“It all starts at home. Give his parents and family all the credit. You can see their dedication to their family and their dedication to doing things the right way. He’s one of the hardest workers in the room, he’s a great all-around kid and that’s more about him and his parents and his family than it is about anything the coaches have done.”
The wrestling room at Collingswood shares many of the same features that rooms across South Jersey feature. This is not a discussion about bricks and mortar but about approach to the work that goes on inside of four walls.
It’s there that the Clark has excelled and challenged his teammates. Granted it’s too soon to call him a leader on a team that has several worthy upperclassmen to handle those roles, but Clark’s efforts have not gone unnoticed nor has his work ethic.
“To me, he’s the best pound-for-pound wrestler in the room,” said 126-pound junior Joey Downing, who won a 9-2 decision on Friday. “I’ve been wrestling him since I was in sixth grade. He’s my wrestling partner now and he pushes me every day. There’s just a focus on getting better that he has that you have to admire.”
“There is nothing specific I work on,’ Clark said. “I need to improve on everything. That’s how I approach practice. There is nothing I can’t get better at.”
Which of course is the foundation of what Collingswood has set out to accomplish year in and year out.
“We have just a great group of kids on this team,” Moody said. “(Clark) is really just another part of our team that gives us a great future. The kids see him work and they know that’s how it’s done. It’s not easy to instill that in a team unless, like I said earlier, it’s already there. He’s a great kid and a great wrestler and it all starts at home.”
152: Reggie Davis, G, md. Billy Plianthos, 18-6; 160: Andrew Solomon, G, won by forfeit; 170: Sean Miles, C, d. Matt Goetz, 5-2; 182: David Norris, G, d. Aaron Carter, 3-2; 195: Nick Barnes, C, p. Alex Parker, 2:45; 220: Michael Taulane, C, forfeit; 285: Matt Meloni, C, d. Christopher Guy, 1-0; 106: Dante Mininno, G, p. Eddie Bernardo, 4:32; 113: Andrew Clark, G, p. James Whitfield, 1:20; 120: Antonio Mininno, G, md. Joe Tenuto, 17-6; 126: Joe Downing, C, d. Kodi Petrowski, 9-2; 132: Will West, C, d. Lucas DeSantis, 3-1; 138: Timmy Sparks, G, md. Marquis Hayes, 9-1; 145: John Lex, C, d. Ferdinando Gismondi, 10-6.