Shoemaker Wrestling

Shoemaker wrestler Maceo Branch, left, and James Hair tighten their head gear during practice on Wednesday, January 11, 2017, at Shoemaker High School.

Gabe Wolf | Herald

The Shoemaker boys wrestling team had a strong showing at the Craig T. Grace Centex Tournament held in Austin this past weekend, finishing fourth overall with 136.5 total points.

What is more impressive about it is the Grey Wolves only field a max of nine wrestlers, and they are forced to forfeit the remainder of their weight classes each outing.

A big reason for their success is they boast five wrestlers — Maceo Branch, Robert Hall, Angel Rodriguez, Chris Williams and James Hair — who are currently ranked in the top 20 in Class 6A in their respective weight divisions.

Four of the five medaled at the Centex tournament.

Branch and Hall finished first at 285 and 138 pounds, respectively. Rodriguez, at 113, and Hair, at 182, both came in fifth.

First-year Shoemaker head coach Lehi Benton said Branch, ranked fifth in his weight class, is exceptionally quick for his size.

“Some of the other guys he comes up against find it overwhelming,” Benton said. “But on top of that, he’s a pretty technical wrestler and has been doing it awhile. He’s one of the veterans who has been wrestling since he was a freshman.

“He knows what is going on and knows how to move his body the right way. It doesn’t hurt that he’s big and huge, too. He’s one of those rare guys at the top of the 285 weight class, meaning he weighs in right at 285, and he’s still quicker than anybody he wrestles.”

Hall is an eighth-ranked senior who boasts an impeccable record of 27-1. Benton says the 138-pounder “eats, sleeps and breathes wrestling.”

“I can’t say enough about him,” Benton said. “He’s such a great kid, and he’s a great athlete on top of that. Robbie has just absolutely dominated everybody he has wrestled except for one guy, and that guy has now dropped weight classes.

“To tell you the truth, he’s only actually been taken down three times this year. He’s unbelievable. If you get a chance to watch him wrestle, it’s good stuff.”

Rodriguez, ranked 19th at 113 pounds, had just hopped off a plane from Puerto Rico, where he went to visit family for Christmas, the night before the Centex tournament. He immediately stood out with his usual tenacity.

“He didn’t get to work out or anything like that and had missed some practices,” Benton said. “Not making any excuses. He usually finishes first or third, so for him to finish fifth is a subpar outing as far as he goes.

“Angel is one of those guys that has super-high output — he overwhelms wrestlers. If he doesn’t pin a guy in the first round, by the third round they just give up because they can’t take it anymore. He’s definitely relentless.”

The 182-pound Hair, ranked 19th, is a technical wrestler.

“James is a student of the game,” Benton said. “He’s a methodical guy. A lot of times people out there get frantic, and James always slows them down and sucks them into his game — and they lose.”

Williams, ranked 13th at 170 pounds, did not medal in the tournament. But coming off a torn ACL while playing football last year and injuring his ankle earlier this wrestling season, the junior is still rounding into tip-top shape.

But Benton said Williams’ brute strength is what separates him from the rest of his weight class.

“That really helps in wrestling,” Benton quipped. “He usually overwhelms the guys he wrestles with his strength, and he’s really improved his technique as the season has gone along and is getting a lot better. I expect him to keep moving up.”

All in all, the fearsome five have catapulted the Grey Wolves into an honorable mention ranking as a team, just outside the top 10.

With the five spearheading them forward, Benton is confident in what Shoemaker will be able to do come time for the District 13-6A meet on Feb. 10-11.

“We’ll miss the weight classes we don’t have,” he said. “But I feel confident that we’ll go into the tournament and place well as a team, and I know we’ll have some champions there.”

Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Previously spent time as sports editor at both the Hereford Brand and the Gatesville Messenger. Graduate of West Texas A&M University.

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