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CVA wrestlers raise the bar for Thunder athletes

photo of three boys

Three CVA wrestlers excelled this season, advancing to the state championships on Feb. 26 and 27 in Albany. CJ Walz (120) placed seventh/eighth, Jon Charles (99) placed first, and Tanner Cook (138) placed second.

Over the two days of the New York State Wrestling Tournament, sophomore Jon Charles (99 lbs.), junior CJ Walz (120 lbs.) and junior Tanner Cook (138 lbs.) proved that Central Valley wrestlers are a force to reckon with. By tournament’s end, Charles was state champion, Cook placed second, and Walz finished seventh/eighth.

How good is that? There are 20,000 high school wrestlers in New York. Only 480 make the state tournament—16 in each weight class for Division 1 (large schools) and 16 in each weight class for Division 2 (small schools). Just making the tournament is an accomplishment; winning a single match is amazing; taking the title is unbelievable. Charles is the first ever Ilion/Mohawk/CVA wrestler to earn a first place finish. Cook follows his brother Laken (CVA ’13) as the second in his family to take second place. Walz is one of a few local wrestlers to make states.

In their matches:

  • Walz pinned his first opponent (2:26), lost a 2-1 heart-breaker, and lost by pin (0:58).
  • Cook crushed his first three opponents 29-7, then lost in the finals 4-3 on a disputed call.
  • Charles dominated the 99-lb. weight bracket, winning one fall (2:41) and outscoring his opponents 27-3 in the other three matches.

Charles is proud but quiet about his accomplishment.

“It feels pretty good,” he said, “But Tanner should have been next to me (as a winner).”

They all point to their coaches Robert Bush, Jeff Mower, and Justin Siefried, and Charles’ dad Jim for the time they invested in the wrestlers training them physically and psychologically for the heightened competition.

The level of competition is what sets states apart from duals or even from sectional meets.

“Everyone’s really good,” said Cook.

“There are no bad kids,” said Walz.

What it takes to be great

All three young men began wrestling as youngsters. Cook was six years old and Charles and Walz were just four when they started. They steadily learned and improved with each year.

When asked what sets them apart from other athletes, they point to the fact that they commit to their sport, putting in more work than most.

During wrestling season, it is two-a-days. They practice with their teammates after school under coaches Bush, Mower, and Siefried. In the evening, they practice again with Jon’s dad. As they prepare for sectionals and states, they join other top wrestlers from Little Falls, New Hartford, and Holland Patent.

Off season, they practice at least twice each week together and spend off days in the weight room. On weekends they wrestle with regional wrestling club STWC NJ/NY. That requires them to travel to New Jersey or as far as South Carolina for meets. The boys often ride together and share hotel rooms on their trips. For these three champions, wrestling is a six-day-a-week, 52-week-per-year commitment.

Commitment does not end at the edge of the wrestling mat. As CVA students, they must remain academically eligible. That means attending school and passing their courses. They admit that balancing school and wrestling is tough during wrestling season. Cook said his grades slip, forcing him to work harder to bring up his average once the season ends. Walz said he often doesn’t begin his homework until 9 p.m. or later. School has to remain a priority because each has plans to wrestle in college after they graduate from CVA.

“The lessons these young men learn from wrestling apply everywhere in life,” said Director of Secondary Education Jim Humphrey.

“Hard work leads to growth and growth leads to mastery. With mastery comes reward—sometimes a medal, sometimes a great grade, sometimes a promotion at work, and sometimes just the satisfaction that you did your very best.”