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Cross on solid footing as wrestling season heads into home stretch

Cross WR trio

Cross wrestlers Amonte McCray (left), Cameron White (center) and Antwain Hoskins placed first in their respective weight classes in the Skip Parker Invitational on Jan. 8 at Fort Dorchester High School.

Two years ago, Cross High School’s wrestling program toiled on the mat, absorbing some lumps along the way but also setting a trusty foundation.

Trojans coach Willie Nearhood never once emphasized winning duals matches that first year. He simply wanted laser-like focus on detail and improvement.

“Every day we try to get better,” said Nearhood, who is assisted by Tyler Moore. “I always tell my guys ‘no steps backward tomorrow.’”

Fast forward to this winter and the Trojans are in the conversation about who’s who in small-school wrestling. The pandemic and injuries have been hurdles but the Trojans are getting through it. If it all comes together, a deep playoff run is in the offing.

It’s not known whether Class A will crown its own champion next month or combine with Class AA again. Twelve Class A programs have to commit to the state duals for the S.C. High School League’s smallest classification to have its own champion.

Cross figures to be a player in the Lower State no matter how it shakes out.

“The month of December was full of challenges,” Nearhood said. “We haven’t wrestled with our full lineup yet. Not one time. We’ve wrestled close to it, and it’s been positive. We’re just batting inconsistency.”

The Trojans were quarantined once last month due to COVID-19.

In the latest top 10 poll by scmat.com, Cross was ranked No. 7 among Class A and Class AA teams and six individuals were inside the top eight of their weight classes. The Trojans could rise in the next poll and have one or two more wrestlers appear in their weight-class rankings.

“We’re getting the rewards for what we did two years ago,” Nearhood said. “We got a whole lot of mat time. These guys know what they’re doing now. That mat time has made a big difference. They expect to win now. It doesn’t matter who they wrestle.”

Six Cross grapplers have advanced to state at least once in the last two years. Senior Antwain Hoskins, who wrestled elsewhere as a freshman, has reached state three times. He was fourth at 145 pounds last season.

Damion Haines placed fourth at 160 pounds as a sophomore and third as a junior. Junior Santory Jones (152) and junior Amonte McCray (HW) qualified for state in 2021. Junior Cameron White (132) and senior Jacob March (113) advanced to state in 2020.

Junior Andrew Viars is currently ranked fourth at 113 pounds for the Trojans. Nearhood and crew have some other grapplers who are strong in their weight classes.

While the present has some shine on it, the future sparkles, too. Cross was able to have a junior varsity-middle school squad this season, checking off one of Nearhood's top priorities. Several future varsity wrestlers have excelled at the sub-varsity level.

That was evident in Carolina Invitational qualifying on Jan. 8, the first leg in the state championship pipeline for middle school and JV wrestlers.

“I think there are better days in our future,” Nearhood said.