It was not exactly the triumphant return Pasquotank senior wrestler Austin Poff expected to make.
Back in Elizabeth City and determined to show how much he had improved since moving to West Virginia after his freshman year, Poff was fired up about facing Brent Becker of Currituck in a season-opening bout at 220 pounds on Nov. 28.
“I thought it would be a quick pin,” said Poff, who was 24-6 at Liberty High and ranked ninth in the state at 195 before injuries brought a premature end to his junior year in the Mountain State.
It was a pin all right. But it was Poff who wound up staring at the ceiling while the ref slapped the mat.
“It was a big blow to lose, but I had nobody to blame but myself,” he said. “I went in unprepared. I was overconfident.”
In fairness to Poff, who went on to win his next six bouts, there were some extenuating circumstances.
For one, he was prepared to wrestle at 195, not 220, and was giving up plenty of weight. Also, Pasquotank
coach Pete Herrington offered Poff no clue that Becker had a 27-3 record before injuries ended his junior season early.
“I figured Austin was pretty decent and I’d put him up against Becker to see what he’s got,” Herrington said. “I’ll bump up my better kids if that will get them a challenge. I don’t like to tell kids how good their opponents are. It can pysch some of them out.
“He tried to muscle Becker and did some silly stuff and it cost him the match. I know he’d do better if they wrestled again.”
It’s not likely that they will meet again, however, and now that Poff is wrestling guys his own size he’s enjoying the kind of success he expected.
Poff comes into today’s Panther Invitational at Paquotank with a 16-4 record. He was a champion in the Pierce-Davis Memorial Tournament at North Pitt and finished second in a tournament in Virginia Beach, Va. last weekend.
Poff looks nothing like the ninth grader who fashioned a 5-6 record for Pasquotank while wrestling at 189.
“I remember him back then, our guy beat him pretty good,” said Herrington, who was coaching at Edenton at the time. “Whoever worked with him in West Virginia did a great job.
“Austin really knows his stuff. He’s very strong for his weight and pretty aggressive.
“And he works hard every day. Some kids break down when you give them extra work, not Austin. He’s a great example for all the young guys on the team.”
One of only two seniors on a freshmen- and sophomore-laden squad, Poff — who was also a two-way lineman on the Pasquotank football team last fall — enjoys playing cheerleader and mentor to the younger Panthers.
“I think I bring confidence to them that they see things can get better if they keep working,” he said. “I have been in tough matches. I had a losing record when I first started.
“I tell them not to quit, that I didn’t quit and look where I’m at. A lot of guys are starting to believe it.
“The longer and harder they work and the more they stick with it as juniors and seniors, I’m sure Pasquotank will have a winning program again.”
Poff thinks the key to his individual success has been his unpredictable style.
“I mix it up every time I go out there,” he said. “One time I’m all offense. The next I’m all defense. Then I’ll go half-and-half.
“I do that so people don’t catch on to what I’m doing. It can really confuse the other guy. He’ll study you and get ready for one thing and you do something different.”
It’s hard to argue that strategy. Ten of Poff’s 13 wins in contested bouts have ended in pins.
Admittedly a little shaky in neutral position, he attempts to dominate from the top.
“I just try to keep them on the bottom and not let them up,” Poff said. “In practice I really work on my top moves.
“My favorites are cradles and stacks. They have been very effective for me.”
While a lot seems to be going Poff’s way right now, he said he’s not thinking about qualifying for the state 2A tournament.
“I just want to help us have a good team and have fun wrestling,” he said. “If I make it to states, great, but I’m not looking that far ahead.
“This is my only senior year. I’m going to take as much out of it as I can, one match at a time.”