Generals’ Cowart taking new approach to junior season

Stonewall Jackson's Kyle Cowart, right, spars during wrestling practice on Tuesday afternoon in Quicksburg. Brad Fauber/Daily

QUICKSBURG – Stonewall Jackson High School’s Kyle Cowart did plenty of wrestling on the mat for the Generals as a sophomore last season, but he also did a lot of observing.

Cowart studied rival wrestlers at Stonewall’s various competitions in an attempt to figure out what made them successful grapplers. He came to the conclusion that it was their aggressiveness.

“I told myself at the end of last year [that] was what I needed to do. I’d watched people from other schools that were good and they were always attacking, so I figured that could help me a little bit,” Cowart said before practice on Tuesday. “So I went into the summer tournaments with that mindset.”

To prepare for his junior season this year, Cowart attended open tournaments at Wilson Memorial and Harrisonburg high schools over the summer, where he worked on shedding his previous defensive approach.

Cowart said it was a difficult transition to make — he had to make a very concentrated effort to basically forget the style he had used on the mat for the past three years — but he’s already noticed a big difference in the early stages of Stonewall Jackson’s wrestling season.

So has his coach.

“He’s a lot more aggressive and he’s got the scrambling ability,” Generals head wrestling coach Jerry Franklin said.

“It’s almost looking like he’s in a college match, just like they do in college. There’s a lot of scrambles in college and he’s really practiced a lot on that ability because when you get into state competition sometimes it looks like it’s a lot of stalling going on, stalemates and stuff like that. He’s practiced a lot on that. I look for him to do well this year, I really do.”

Behind his new philosophy, Cowart — who is wrestling at 152 pounds this season — has a 9-1 record on the mat for the Generals this winter, with most of his victories coming via pin, Franklin said. Cowart’s lone loss came in Stonewall Jackson’s season-opening tournament at Waynesboro.

“He’s elevated himself tremendously between this year and last year,” Franklin said. “I was very impressed with the first couple weeks.”

Though Cowart has demonstrated growth on the mat between his sophomore and junior seasons, it hasn’t always been easy for him to get the necessary competition needed in practice to continue that improvement.

Stonewall Jackson’s roster is thin on high school wrestling experience, limiting the amount of constructive mat time that Cowart can get during practice. Most of the junior’s sparring sessions come against assistant coach A.C. Franklin — Jerry Franklin’s son — or one of the several former Stonewall Jackson wrestlers that attend the Generals’ practices from time to time.

“It’s a little difficult,” Cowart admitted. “We have a bunch of new guys in the room so I don’t have as much experience level to train with. I mean, there’s a lot of potential but it’s just hard sometimes to not have the same level experience in the room to train with.”

But Cowart isn’t going to let that get in the way of him achieving his goal of returning to the Group 2A state tournament in Salem this season.

Though he experienced somewhat limited mat time last year as he bounced between the 145- and 152-pound weight classes to open more opportunities for then-senior Christopher Delaughter, Cowart qualified for the state tournament at 152 pounds. Once in Salem, however, Cowart lost his first two matches — including an opening-round loss to eventual champ Elliott Pedigo of Grundy — and was able to salvage a seventh-place finish (out of eight individuals) by beating George Mason’s Jack Stricker in his final match of the 2013-14 season.

Cowart admitted that he simply didn’t work hard enough to prepare himself for the level of competition at the state level.

“I went and wrestled last year, but I didn’t do as well as I could’ve,” said Cowart, who was 36-19 last year and placed second and third in the Conference 35 and Region 2A East tournaments, respectively. “I’m going to work this year to try and do better.”

Given the inexperience of Stonewall Jackson’s roster, Cowart must chase his goals this season while assuming the unfamiliar position as the Generals’ leader, a role that Cowart admits he hasn’t fulfilled quite as well as he would like so far.

Franklin said he’s taking “baby steps” in grooming Cowart as the leader that the Generals need, but the head coach expects Cowart to mold into an effective motivator for Stonewall Jackson by the time he graduates.

Until then, Cowart will continue to let his success on the wrestling mat do the leading for Stonewall Jackson this winter.

“I just told him, ‘Just don’t peak right now. Wait until February to start peaking better,'” Franklin said. “If he’s going to peak better than he is right now, we’ll be alright when February comes around.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com