Daniel Bowers can enjoy food again.
The Nash Central senior spent much of last season skipping out on meals, his stomach grumbling in the cafeteria during lunch. Bowers was cutting almost 10 pounds before matches.
Bowers, a diabetic, said that the constant battle to drop from nearly 150 pounds to 138 to made him jittery, weak and tired. So in his final high school wrestling season Bowers vowed to not go through that again.
The plan is working as he is competing at his body’s natural weight in the 160-pound weight class this season and has turned in the most successful season of his career.
“I was trying to play down too far and I couldn’t get back my strength before the matches,” Bowers said of his junior season. “Not being able to eat throughout the day as much as I like to threw everything off. I feel strong out there, now.”
Bowers was one win away from reaching the state tournament during his sophomore season when he wrestled at 138. A talented senior in that class graduated, and he attempted to stay at the same bracket the following season and found it difficult to maintain his strength and endurance as his body naturally wanted to grow and put on weight.
The result was an early postseason exit as Bowers lost in the first round at regionals last year. And while the loss was disappointing, the Bulldogs’ wrestler learned plenty from that experience.
Now, Bowers finds himself in a position to qualify for his first state tournament this season when the Class 2-A East Regional begins on Tuesday at Croatan High School.
He owns a perfect 15-0 record this season, and earned a bye through the first round.
“Definitely last year when I lost the first round at regionals, the memory sticks out for not a good reason,” Bowers said. “It was so heartbreaking but it helped me grow as a person. I had a winning record and I went in as a No. 3 seed and it was just really bad. But losing helped me learn to deal with adversity and loss, and I hope this year I can avenge that or get back to finishing with a good season.”
He attacked his senior season with a ferocity that was propped up by his lofty goals. He said that reaching the state tournament is his goal every year, but this season has come together in a way that the others have not.
He had to adjust.
Wrestling was pushed back to the late spring from its traditional winter sports slot, so he joined the Nash Central swimming team and played soccer to stay in shape while waiting for the season to begin.
And despite having a small team — Bowers has never been on a Bulldogs team with more than six wrestlers — he was able to own his competition this season while wrestling opponents with varying weight advantages.
He has wrestled opponents that weigh almost 20 more pounds on multiple occasions due to the lack of athletes on opposing teams.
Because of this, his practice sessions under a new coaching staff have been important. First-year Nash Central head coach Ryan Sweet, a former Fairmont High wrestling coach and 2011 Northern Nash graduate, has helped change the culture around the program.
Sweet, who was a wrestler in high school, acts as a training partner for Bowers during practices. The coach also brought with him the importance of endurance.
“I knew with these new coaches it was going to be a lot better this season after the first workout,” Bowers said. “We came out and they had me throwing up that first workout. They were definitely pushing us and I knew we would be better conditioned this year.”
Sweet’s twin brother Bryan, and Tavis Richardson came over from Northern Nash’s wrestling program to join Ryan this season, and the trio is looking to build a successful program.
“It’s been a dream since high school for all of us to coach together,” Ryan said. “All three of us started talking about coaching together once we graduated.”
The coaching staff has entered a unique position of coaching a roster with many unfilled weight classes. Oftentimes many wrestlers will win via forfeit, and with no tournaments this season wrestlers can sometimes go weeks without facing an opponent.
“When we were (in high school) everyone had a full team and you knew you were going to wrestle. We went to tournaments every weekend or every other weekend and you knew you were going to wrestle,” Ryan said. “With no tournaments this year, you just had to hope those teams have somebody to wrestle.
“So practice is important for Daniel. I try to put him in situations or scenarios that he might see to get him ready (for regionals). He wrestled two 185-pounders and pinned both of them in exhibition. He really hasn’t had a match that he’s had to work. He won 19-4 once, and either won by pin or won by forfeit every other match. So our practice time is really the only thing he can look to going on to regionals.”
Bowers will wrestle either Hayden Zeagler (10-11) or Dayton East (7-5) in the second round.