Pats, Brown come together at right time

Any time a successful program brings in a new head coach, one should expect a period of adjustment.

Returning athletes may try to push a little and see how the new coach responds while the new coach may push his athletes a little hard early to see if his team will buy in.

Though he had spent one season as an assistant coach, Fort Dorchester’s first-year head wrestling coach Deral Brown says it took a little time for him and his team to get on the same page this season.

“There is always a little period where the players and the coaches have to learn to trust each other,” said Brown, who is only two years removed from Newberry College. “I’m a new coach, a young coach, and I knew we had to work together to get through the transition. But as we went along, things started falling into place. The kids here, they work hard and this is a great program. We just needed time early to adjust to each other.”

Fort Dorchester suffered seven defeats this season, including a tough loss to rival Ashley Ridge for the Region 8-AAAA title. But, this year’s team did indeed buy in and accept its new leader. The unified effort has landed the program in the AAAA state duals championship match on Saturday at 3:30 at Dreher High School in Columbia. Fort Dorchester avenged the loss to Ashley Ridge in Wednesday night’s Lower State championship match.

Fort Dorchester — state champions in 2007 and 2010 — will take on defending AAAA state champion Rock Hill, the most successful program in state history.

“Our guys have worked extremely hard,” says Brown. “I honestly felt from the start of this season that we had the potential to be in the finals. I would have been disappointed had we not reached this point. We took some lumps along the way, but this team really came together here at the end. I am very proud of what they have accomplished.”

Seniors Jacob Hutchinson, Joseph Hutchinson and Quadre Chisolm have provided strong leadership. Jacob is currently the second-ranked wrestler in AAAA at 170 pounds, while Joseph is ranked third in AAAA at 182 pounds. Chisolm is the top-ranked AAAA wrestler in the 220-pound weight class.

Junior AJ Alford sports an undefeated record at 160 pounds and also is ranked No. 1 in AAAA. Freshmen twins Drew (132) and John (138) Parker have been solid contributors as first-year varsity performers.

Fort Dorchester met its finals opponent — Rock Hill — earlier this season, losing, 39-34. Rock Hill enters the finals with a 47-1 duals record. The Bearcats are seeking their 17th state title.

Brown, a three-time state champion wrestler at Lugoff-Elgin, knows his team is the underdog in the finals. But, he says, that’s nothing new to his team.

“We lost to Lexington during the regular season and beat them in the playoffs, then we came back and beat Ashley Ridge, so we’ve been underdogs for the last two matches,” said Brown. “We know Rock Hill is a tremendous team and a big challenge, but I really feel like we are peaking as a team at the right time. We’re in a good place mentally and we will go into Saturday very confident.”