St. Louis Priory High School's wrestling team came into the season under the radar. Now though, they're known as the Metro League champions.
The team placed second at the John Burroughs tournament, third at a highly competitive St. Clair Tournament and first at its own Priory Tournament.
Winning the league was one of the goals of senior co-captain Zachary Warr.
"This year we came back kind of underdogs," he said. "No one expected us to do well. But we pushed through. When they called our names and said we'd won the Metro League, I was beyond happy with what our team has done. Just the work we put in to get it done. And that gives me hope for the rest of the season."
Warr, who also played football and was on the track team at Priory, said wrestling builds character. "It's a combination of team and individuality," he said.
At Priory, he has pushed himself beyond what he thought were his limits, academically and athletically.
Anthony Kraus, also a senior and captain, likes working hard and giving everything he has to the sport. "It's a great feeling of accomplishment," he said. "Definitely, getting my hand raised at the end of a match is one of the greatest feelings."
He likes the role of a captain, someone others can look up to as he leads by example. "I hope to continue that philosophy throughout the rest of my life. Wrestling taught me that," Kraus said.
Wrestling is tough, with hours of training for Kraus, who also plays football and rugby.
Greg Rolwes said practices take hard work and determination. "It's a really satisfying putting in all that hard work and seeing your goals come to fruition," Rolwes said. "In a match, it's you and another guy ... it's really who wants to win more. If you don't want it, you're not going to win no matter how much skill you have. It's so gritty and tough in that match that you have to have the mental strength to get through it."
The junior captain has run cross country and track and played rugby. Seeing the wrestling team this year come together with a complete line-up of dedicated athletes is enjoyable, he said.
Steve Rolwes, cousin of Greg Rolwes, is in his ninth year as head coach of the wrestling team at Priory. Each year he sees wrestlers learn about and surprise themselves as they grow in confidence and self-esteem, achieving goals that others may not have seen as possible for them. "Kids learn work ethic, take pride in their work," he said. "You see it carry over into other parts of their lives. Suddenly they turn into 'A' students and are successful in other areas."
The sport is more difficult and less popular than others, so those who take part are usually more dedicated and simply need guidance, coach Rolwes said. "It's not just going out and throwing people around. There's obviously a physical nature to the sport, but most of wrestling is mental and psychological. You have to know what you're doing. The other guy can be bigger and faster, but if you have better technique you'll beat him every time."
Wrestlers learn to prepare for a match, face their fears and push themselves. "No match is easy," the coach said. "You have to earn those victories. That's a great lesson in life that they get to learn at a young age — success is earned, it's not just given to you."
Team members also have fun, the coach said. The student-athletes are intelligent, respectful and willing to listen and work hard. "The Catholic background of the school helps because the behavior and morals of the students shows forth in how they act, with good sportsmanship and charity," coach Rolwes said. "With all the work they do in the practice room just to win a match, all of life should be a lot easier. There's no challenge in life that they shouldn't be able to face and get through. That goes with their spiritual life as well. Life is hard, but not that hard when you just keep working."
The wrestlers learn that even if they fail to achieve a goal, it isn't a reason to quit but a reason to come back and work harder.
Wrestlers have a camaraderie, a mutual respect with their opponents. "They put everything they have into it," coach Rolwes said. "At the end of six minutes they have to stand up and shake each other's hand, win or lose, and then shake the opposing coach's hand. That's not always the easiest thing to do. But it's incredibly sportsmanship-like and classy," he said.
Greg Rolwes brings his faith to the sport by relying on it for strength. Just as in wrestling, faith takes dedication and hard work, and needs to be practiced when others aren't looking, he said. Warr and Kraus agreed, adding that all wrestlers have to be thankful for their God-given talents.
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>> Priory Tournament
Ten schools competed in the Priory Tournament on Jan. 28, and Priory took first place, outscoring runner-up University City High School, 245-187.
Priory's Greg Rolwes pinned Da'Shon Fitz of McCluer High School to win the 160-pound class, and Priory's Tony Kraus defeated Dillan Williams of Lutheran St. Charles in the 182-pound class. Priory's Zac Warr, Alex Telma and Christian Witte took second place in their weight classes.
The season is winding down, with the district tournament set for Feb. 10-11 and the state tournament Feb. 16-18.