By Kevin Eickman
Last year’s COVID pandemic took its toll on wrestling throughout the entire state of Delaware. While for the most part, the just completed fall seasons give cause for optimism, there is still a bit of a hangover lingering from last season. In a wrestling room that is almost packed, when interviewing Milford coach Don Parsley this Monday, it was clear to see that the number of wrestlers is still down this season when it comes to participation. “We usually have a great many more wrestlers here at this point in the year. But there are a lot of factors involved with what we have in terms of numbers and experience. The middle school did not have a season last year, so the number of new people coming into the program has decreased a bit, along with some people we hoped we might get to join or come back to the team,” Parsley said.
While the numbers may be down for Milford, there is quality in the room as well. Leading the way for the Buccaneers will be senior Jack Thode, the reigning state champion at 126 pounds. With two state titles under his belt, Thode will most assuredly have his eyes set on a third. However, there is a lot more to Jack Thode than his individual accomplishments. “Jack is the type of wrestler who leads by example. He is the type of wrestler that the team can look up to and learn from. It’s not easy to be a leader, but Jack does a great job of embracing it,” Parsley said.
Milford will be bringing back a few wrestlers who fared well in the state tournament as well last season. Among them will be junior Averi Copes who finished third in the tournament. “Averi improved as the season went on last year, I believe that growth will continue,” Parsley said. Senior Tim O’Hara, who finished sixth in the state last year, is another returning finalist along with senior Aaron Briscoe who finished fifth. “It’s not like the cupboard is bare, we have some quality wrestlers returning, we just don’t have the depth we are used to. We have a lot of question marks, especially in the upper weights, but those things have a way of sorting themselves out,” Parsley said.
Another returning wrestler is junior Emily Thode, who made history last season as she became the first female wrestler to win a state tournament match. Thode, who wrestles at 106 pounds received high praise from Parsley. “Without a doubt, she is the toughest wrestler on this team. It’s not about her being a girl, it’s about her having a no quit attitude. She competes in arguably the toughest conference in Delaware, the Henlopen North. There is no way to keep her off the mat, she is tough as nails and refuses to believe she can’t win, no matter what the math says,” Parsley said.
With a challenging season ahead, Parsley is sticking to the game plan that has repeatedly kept Milford one of the more competitive teams in Delaware. It will all start this weekend when Milford will kick-off their season at the Polytech Invitational, which will be followed the next weekend by the Milford Invitational. Parsley believes in building his team up as the season goes along, and seeing what some of the younger wrestlers show in this early season tournaments is one of the way to see what kind of talent he has on his squad “We can wrestle each other all day long, but until we get out there and wrestle against other programs, there are a lot of questions that need answering. Our goal is always to make it to the State Tournament and the way we do that is by getting better as the season goes on. I think making the tournament would really say a lot about the heart of this team, I’m really looking forward to watching how the year unfolds.” Parsley concluded.
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