Poised and in perfect position, Maiden senior wrestler Richard Kerekes aims to become the school’s first state wrestling champion.
Kerekes, pronouned Kur-Kus, is 34-0 on the mat this season for the Blue Devils.
His undefeated record earned him the Catawba Valley 2A wrestler of the year award.
Maiden coach Sean McGovern said a change in Kerekes started last year when he lost in the finals of the CVAC tournament.
“I think he went into the conference tournament expecting to be a conference champion,” McGovern said. “He fell short. It was like a switch turned on in him. At regionals, he was a completely different wrestler. When I took him to state tournament, he was completely different.”
Kerekes said he started to approach his time on the mat differently.
“After I lost that match, I just stepped up, went out there and just attacked everybody,” he said. “I didn’t care what the result was. I just wanted to wrestle for me. I did everything I could this past year to make improvements. That’s mainly been the difference for me.”
Since then, the senior has only lost one match — against Croatan’s Sam McCauley in the semifinals of last year’s 2A state tournament.
McGovern said Kerekes’ impressive run boils down to work ethic.
“Richard is one of the hardest working kids I know,” McGovern said. “He loves to compete. He is just a guy who makes everything a competition. He does that with his teammates in practice everyday. I think he drives the rest of the team to compete harder. He has really made the guys around him a lot better, too. I think a lot of his success has to do with having a will to work hard.”
By driving his teammates, Maiden finished third in the Catawba Valley 2A, its best-ever finish in the conference.
With only four seniors on the Maiden squad, Kerekes said he focused on coaching younger wrestlers.
“Being seniors, we get on the freshman and sophomores because they are a majority of the team,” Kerekes said. “We push each other hard, but mainly we want to get the sophomores and freshmen ready. We just try to get everyone in shape to wrestle for consolations, not just in finals. The kids in consolations are the ones who get us points.”
With his impressive senior season, Kerekes became the first Maiden wrestler to reach the 100-win mark. Teammate Evan Spears isn’t far behind with 97 wins.
Kerekes hopes that he helps establish what will be a long-standing tradition at Maiden.
“I know that record will be broken in a couple years, especially with these freshmen,” Kerekes said. “They are a lot better than I was. It’s a great honor to be the first one to win 100 matches at Maiden. Our program isn’t old. We’re working on it. Evan is almost up there. He’s right behind me. He might break it, too.”
Kerekes’ biggest challenge this season came at the Chick-Fil-A Blue Devil Invitational in Dreher, S.C. He took on the state’s No. 1 and No. 2 ranked wrestlers in 3A, taking down both.
“Those kids were good,” Kerekes said. “I wrestled all the top-ranked kids from South Carolina. They are great wrestlers. I had a tight match in the semis. I didn’t think I could pull it out. He got on me first and got the first takedown. After that, I had to work even harder to catch up. In the end, I pulled it out.“
Combined with wrestling stiff competition week in and week out, McGovern said he believes Kerekes is prepared for next weekend’s regional tournament.
“It’s different every week and different every time you wrestle,” McGovern said. “Even when you wrestle the same guys. I think it was really important for him to have close matches and get contested, which he has done all year. I think that tournament really proved to him, self confidence-wise, that he’s been a lot better.”
Kerekes said he would be honored to be a state champion.
“It would be amazing to be the first-ever Maiden High School state wrestling champion,” he said. “It’s a lot of pressure, yet, at the same time I know if I do it, I’ll be the first one in Maiden history. That would be a great honor. I want to do it, but I know it will be tough road.”