Warriors’ Avery ready to take final step on wrestling mat

Sherando's Ben Avery, left, faces off with Dominion's Adeeb Atariwa during the Group 4A state wrestling tournament heavyweight championship last season in Salem. Avery, the state runner-up last year, is seeking his first state title as a senior this winter. Brad Fauber/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Looking back on his junior wrestling season a year ago, Sherando senior Ben Avery considers it a journey.

Despite being a four-year wrestler at heavyweight for the Warriors, Avery admittedly isn’t the most experienced grappler. Also a two-way player on the offensive and defensive lines for Sherando’s football team, most of Avery’s off season work focuses on football. But last winter, Avery received some self-validation as a wrestler.

He reached the championship matches in the Conference 21, Region 4A North and Group 4A state tournaments, earning a regional title during his strong postseason run. But he just missed earning his first state wrestling title with a loss in the 285-pound final at Salem Civic Center back in February.

“Coming just short of it was bad but I think it was necessary to give me, you know, the drive to actually perform well this year, and that I have something to shoot for and I have something that I wanna get to,” Avery said Tuesday before practice.

“(My mindset is) different in the sense that it’s my last shot at leaving a mark on Sherando and leaving a mark on the state,” he continued. “It’s the last opportunity that I get to go out and wrestle for Sherando High School, so it’s now or never.”

Avery enters his senior season as one of three returning Warriors who reached the state tournament a year ago, along with 170-pound champion John Borst, a junior, and senior Curtis Guthridge. But Avery still has some catching up to do ahead of Sherando’s trip to Hedgesville High School in West Virginia for a tournament today and Saturday.

Due to football, Avery didn’t begin wrestling practice until Monday, and he’s been slowly working on gaining strength back in his arm after suffering a football injury to the UCL in his left elbow during the fall season, which prohibited him from lifting weights for most of football season. Warriors coach Pepper Martin said Avery has been hard at work cramming for this weekend’s season opener.

“The practices he’s been to so far he’s really been pushing himself to try to get in wrestling shape,” Martin said, “because he knows we hit the ground running with nine matches in two days.”

This winter, Avery is aiming to continue taking the strides he’s made each year since joining Sherando’s wrestling team as a heavyweight his freshman season. That means maintaining the level of aggressiveness and physicality that vaulted Avery into position to be one of the top 4A heavyweight wrestlers in the state last year.

That aggressiveness on the mat didn’t exist for Avery early in his career. As he puts it, “You throw a 14 year old into a 285-pound body and have him wrestle 18 year olds who are in the same body, it’s gonna be rough.”

But those two years of varsity experience as a freshman and sophomore cultivated a confidence in Avery on the mat last season.

Martin said he thinks Avery’s mental approach to the sport has improve drastically “to where he considers himself to be the best wrestler and he’s gonna find a way to win.”

He added, “He knows he’s gonna win the match. So I think that positive approach and believing in himself has gone a long way to contributing to his actual success on the mat.”

Martin said Avery, who suffers from asthma and is regularly forced to use an inhaler and often a nebulizer to keep the condition under control during matches and practices, has become more adept at regulating the condition, which also helped add to his success last season.

Avery, who said you can never become accustomed to being short of breath, agreed that much of his focus has been on match management, understanding things like when to take breaks, when to get out of bounds and reset during matches and when and how long to take injury timeouts if he feels an attack coming during a bout.

“There’s different things like that that come with experience in wrestling and you can only get from being out on the mat,” said Avery, who was forced to default his final two matches in the Willie Walters/Jaye Copp tournament at James Wood due to an asthma attack last season. “It’s not something that you can really emulate in practice as much as just being a wrestler for a few years.”

And while focusing on managing his health, Avery is still finding time to refine his technique. Just in the few days Avery has been in the wrestling room this week, Martin said the senior has already added a few more takedowns to his list of moves.

For most of his wrestling career, Avery said, he’s relied on his speed, strength and a “base repertoire” of moves, knee picks and head drags his favorite among them.

“I’m still learning a lot,” Avery said. “They still teach stuff in that (wrestling) room that I have no idea. And that’s kind of how wrestling is too. It’s been kind of good digging into just the techniques and the moves and having different things for different situations and stuff like that.”

Among his list of goals this season, Avery said he’d like to keep his asthma under control enough to where he can go several matches without needing to use his inhaler or nebulizer. And of course, earning his first state wrestling title tops that list.

He’s also looking forward to continuing his rivalry with Dominion High School’s Adeeb Atariwa, whom Avery faced in the championship matches in the conference, regional and state tournaments. Avery’s lone postseason win over Atariwa last year came in the Region 4A North final.

“I don’t wrestle for the matches that last 20 seconds. I wrestle for the matches that I don’t know if I’m gonna win,” Avery said. “… You don’t get any better by wrestling kids you know you’re gonna pin in six seconds. And so I love wrestling guys that are just as good as me and better than me. Any time I get that opportunity I’m right there.”

Martin said Sherando’s varsity wrestling team will be a “mixed bag” of experience up and down its lineup this winter, adding that it’s difficult to tell “what level our development as a team is gonna be.”

But Martin knows he can rely on Avery’s leadership.

“Ben is just such a good-natured young man that he makes it that you can’t do anything but not only like him, but respect him and that’s where the leadership comes in the full realization. Those young men, when he speaks, they listen,” Martin said.

“He’s one of the finest young men. Of course he’s successful, he’s successful on the mat, but he’s one of the finest young men I’ve ever been associated with as a coach in any sport.”

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