Wrestling has been in Joe and Terrell Mondragon's blood for as long as they can remember. Their father, also named Joe, was a two-time high school state champion, and from an early age he had his two sons on the mat.
The brothers grew up in Utah, but a spontaneous move to the east coast landed the family in Wilmington and at Ashley High School. It hasn't taken long for them to make their mark on the local scene.
Joe, a junior, enters Saturday's Mideastern Conference individual tournament as the favorite to claim the 132-pound title. He is 17-0 on the season with 14 pins, a tech fall and a forfeit. His only decision was a 7-0 win over West Brunswick's Campbell Alspaugh.
"The competition back in Utah is actually a lot tougher," Joe said. "It's not as intense here as I was expecting it to be on the east coast."
Joe really fell in love with the sport in junior school, as his passion guided him to four consecutive state titles from fifth to eighth grade.
"My fifth grade year was when I realized I really enjoyed it a lot because I started traveling across the country," Joe said. "I made it on team Utah and we traveled to Indianapolis, Daytona Beach, Fargo and the team just really took me on."
As a freshman, Joe made a the state championship match before falling. He finished that season with a 55-9 record. He was unable to participate in the postseason last year.
One of the things that has helped Joe become such a successful wrestler is the fact that he always had a practice partner.
Terrell, a sophomore 113 pounder, also has had a successful first season in North Carolina. He enters the conference tournament with a 21-5 record.
"For him to be there it made a big difference, because whenever I needed a practice partner to work out with Terrell was always there," Joe said. "He always helped me out with that last little pound to get off or whatever I needed."
Having the Mondragons in the Ashley practice room has also made others better. Junior Austin Gabriele is having a breakout season. As a sophomore Gabriele finished with a 21-18 record and was one match away from qualifying for states.
With better practice partners, Gabriele has blossomed. He is the top-ranked 126 pounder in the area and with a 22-4 record he is primed to make a postseason run.
Reprinted form the Starnews Varsity Online