Gateway wrestling team has PIAA expectations
By: Shawn Annarelli
Friday, November 23, 2018 | 6:21 PM
Gateway isn’t known for its wrestling program, but Evan Whiteside and Nevin Matthews want to make a lasting mark this season by qualifying for states.
A.J. Wilkins is the lone Gators wrestler to compete in states in more than a decade. He wrestled in 2013 at 113 pounds.
The leaders of Gateway’s wrestling team, Matthews and Whiteside have wrestled in the WPIAL tournament in previous seasons.
“Those two are the anchors, and I expect them to be leaders beyond producing on the mat,” coach Ryan Sula said. “I think with their aspirations of states, they’ve put in a ton of work in the offseason. They’ve both been wrestling since they were kids, and in years prior they’ve come into their own discovering what they are good at.”
Matthews, a senior at 182, called wrestling in states his dream for 12 years.
“My goal is top four at WPIALs and to place at states,” Matthews said. “I’ve put in a lot of work in the offseason going to The Mat Factory and just working my hardest to achieve what I think I can, so making states would mean the world to me after wrestling my whole life. It’s always been my goal.”
Whiteside, a junior who qualified for WPIALs at 106 in 2016, will wrestle this season at 113.
“My hope is that I will qualify for states, and my expectation is that I will qualify for WPIALs,” Whiteside said. “I think I’m more dynamic on my feet where I can shoot better (than last season). I think I have more attacks, and I’ve gotten better with my pin combinations.”
The Gators also have several experienced wrestlers at the varsity level returning to the team, including senior Bryce Washington, who was unable to compete last season because of a torn ACL suffered during the 2017 football season.
Washington returned to the football field this fall and also will make a comeback on the mats at 220.
“We’ll see where he’s at, because it’s tough when you lose a whole year off the mat,” Sula said. “He plays football, so he doesn’t get to come in for most of the preseason. Hopefully for him it’ll be like riding a back. It’s awesome to have him back.”
Junior Mike Hall at 152 also will be back for the Gators after his first season of regularly competing in 2017. His offseason workouts have made him noticeably “bigger and stronger,” according to Sula, who expects Hall to “take a huge step forward.”
Senior Javokhir Rakhmatullaev is expected to be a regular starter this season after transferring a year ago from Chartiers Valley.
“We expect to improve,” Sula said. “The kids that have been doing this for a few years should take a step forward. We have some kids who were first- or second-year (wrestlers) last season, and that’s who we really expect to take steps forward to start winning those closer matches right around their experience level.”
Gateway will compete in its first matches Dec. 7 when it hosts the Eastern Area Invitational against 23 other teams.
“Our focus right now is to be prepared for that tournament,” Sula said. “It’s a great opening tournament and a lot of good competition, and it’ll be somewhat of a gauge for where we are.”
Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer.