North Hunterdon's William Hughes. (Courtesy photo)
There’s nothing fishy about William Hughes' rise from a below-.500 wrestler as a sophomore to a District 15 champion as a junior,
“I was cutting down to 120 pounds last season, losing 15-20 pounds, and it was as awful to maintain 120,” said the North Hunterdon junior. “Now, at 138, I can recover from hard training session a lot better. It keeps me stronger and feeling better. I can go home and eat a pretty big meal. I like seafood.”
Scallops and flounder and shrimp may become a lot more popular around wrestlers if they look at Hughes’ turnaround. He was 8-15 last season; 22-9 this season. As District 15 champion, he’ll take the mat Friday night (6) in the Region 4 quarterfinals at Union against Cranford’s top-seeded Tom DiGiovanni (31-2).
“Region 4 is going to be tough,” Hughes said. “But I don’t look at brackets. I used to, but now I don’t want to focus on what other guys are doing, I want to focus on stuff under my control. I am going to wrestle everyone in front of me as if they were a state champion.”
That approach has worked well for Hughes this season after last season’s struggles.
“All my focus last season was on maintaining and making weight,” Hughes said.
This year, the Lion junior could focus on goals that really matter – such as making on to North Hunterdon’s Wall of Fame in its wrestling room.
After all, Hughes had some precedent to follow.
“My father, Peter, was a district and regional champion for North Hunterdon in 1976,” Hughes said. “And my uncle, Jim Hughes, was a North district champion in 1999. I really wanted to follow my dad and get up on the wall.”
Whatever pressure Hughes felt to do so came strictly from inside.
“My dad didn’t push me at all,” William Hughes said. “I could tell he really liked wrestling and would like me to wrestle, and I could sense it was something really important.”
Hughes’ 8-1 win over Elvin Guerrero of Roselle Park landed him on that wall as the Lions’ 199th district champion. At 145, his classmate Tucker Kirchberger became the 200th North Hunterdon district champ as the Lions won every D-15 title between 132 and 160 pounds and took the team title.
The team success – in addition to being district champions, North Hunterdon finished the year ranked No. 9 in the region by lehighvalleylive and ended up 17-6 – helped fuel the Lions’ individual accomplishments, and came as something of a surprise in what even coach Tim Flynn saw as a rebuilding year.
“I think our seniors helped in developing a sense of leadership and we all felt responsible for how the team turned it around,” Hughes said. “We knew we could turn things around if we pushed each other to get better every day.”
The Lions had little choice, competing in the brutal Skyland Conference Raritan Division, where all seven teams in the division won their district championship.
“Wrestling against that kind of competition gives you the confidence to wrestle anybody,” Hughes said. “It makes you better, going up against the best and succeeding. It makes you understand what it takes to win.”
That was the case for Hughes, who said it was a 7-5 loss to Lenape Valley’s Ray Smaha on Jan. 12 that helped turn his season around.
“I knew he was really good and I showed myself I could compete in a two-point match,” Hughes said. “That made me think I could compete with the best in the area. I have to respect all, fear none and try to keep my mindset going through the while match. I can’t let anyone get in my head. I have to keep going forward the whole match.”
In fact, Hughes has a different way of making sure he stays mentally focused.,
“I write down notes before my matches,” he said. “I thought my earlier mindset was holding me back. Going over thingb in writing helps me realize what works best, It’s just another way to have an edge. Before, my nerves would get to me. Now I have a plan I trust before the match.”
Technically, Hughes has stepped forward as well.
“I have really improved on my feet,” he said. “Before, I waited for other guys to shoot and then got into a scramble with them. Now, I believe I can get the first takedown every time.”
And Hughes feels good every time he takes the mat – nothing fishy about that.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.
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