The high school wrestling season is getting close to the finish line, and three Cumberland County wrestlers are currently ranked at the top of the heap in their respective classes.
The most recent rankings at NCMat.com showed two Cape Fear wrestlers, 170- pound Mike Vernagallo and 285-pound Josh Jones, at the No. 1 position. Joining them at No. 1 is Pine Forest’s Daniel Peede at 152 pounds. Vernagallo and Jones are in the 3-A classification while Peede competes at the 4-A level.
Of the three, Vernagallo is the only one still unbeaten for the season through Jan. 17. Jones and Peede both have losses they picked up over the Christmas break, Jones in the Holy Angels tournament in Charlotte and Peede in the WRAL tournament in Raleigh.
Records posted on ncprepsports.net as of Jan. 15 had Peede 29-1, Jones 26-1 and Vernagallo 29-0.
Vernagallo is chasing his second state wrestling title, having won for the first time last season, while Jones and Peede will both be looking for higher finishes as they attempt to again qualify for the state tournament this season.
Cape Fear coach Heath Wilson said Vernagallo and Jones both provide leadership for his Colt team, which is among the best in the state this year.
“Mikey is a dominant force, a freak of nature,’’ Wilson said. “Josh is one heck of a man when he gets on the mat. It’s tough to deal with his strength and size, but he’s also teachable, which is probably the biggest asset with Josh. You teach him something and he grabs hold.’’
Pine Forest coach Charles Daniels said he has no problem motivating Peede. “He’s an independent guy,’’ Daniels said. “He takes it on himself to go to club wrestling. He’s like a second coach. He knows what to do and makes it happen.’’
Peede said being top-ranked with only one loss doesn’t put any pressure on him. “Last season, I was ranked pretty high, so I’m used to it,’’ he said. “If there’s a target on my back and everybody is coming for me, I welcome it. It’s not going to change the way we do things.’’
Like Peede, both Vernagallo and Jones are looking ahead to the major competitions waiting at the end of the season: conference tournament, regionals and state finals.
Vernagallo’s main goal has been to get a more solid physique and stay healthy. “Last year, I was a small 170,’’ he said. “I just lifted, and my diet got better, more meats and carbs.’’
Jones has been focusing on consistency and taking one match at a time. “Right now, I’m focusing on staying healthy and making sure by body is in tip-top shape,’’ he said.
Cape Fear also has a shot at a state team title, and Jones said the whole team has one goal in the matches remaining.
“To pin and not get pinned,’’ he said. “That’s basically all we’ve got to do.’’
Photos L to R : Mike Vernagallo; Josh Jones; Daniel Peede