SOUTH BERWICK — Marshwood High junior Cody Hughes has won two state wrestling titles and last season was undefeated against in-state competition after moving up from 138 to 152 pounds.
So what did the 16-year-old from South Berwick do to sharpen his wrestling skills?
He took his show on the road.
Last April, he won the National High School Coaches Association Sophomore Tournament in Virginia Beach, Va., going 5-0 against competitors from Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, New Jersey and South Carolina.
“Yeah, it was big, because it was nationals,” Hughes said, who then quickly added he was “only” fourth at the freshman nationals the year before.
“That was a little disappointing. I hate losing,” Hughes said.
But according to his high school coach Matt Rix and his father, Todd Hughes, Marshwood’s assistant and his son’s first coach, it is the rare loss that has been one of the greatest benefit of the out-of-state trips.
“Not that he has a ton of them but when he does lose he learns from them,” Rix said.
Todd Hughes, himself a former state champ at Marshwood, said he and his wife, Hillary, always had the philosophy of not pushing wrestling on their son.
When Cody’s desire matched his growing talent, however, they would give him the opportunity to be exposed to the best possible competition.
“It was important to challenge him, and, frankly, making sure he lost and that he always felt the challenge to improve,” Todd Hughes said.
“He goes year round and competes where the competition is,” Noble Coach Kip DeVoll said. “I’ve seen him in matches and he’s very level-headed.
The out-of-season training and wrestling really pays off. He’s got a future in the sport if he sticks with it, as much as it pains me to say that about one of our rivals.”
Hughes was certainly challenged by his most recent trip, competing Oct. 26-27, at the Super 32 tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
“Everyone there was really good. It’s definitely the toughest folkstyle (i.e., high school style) tournament in the country,” Hughes said. “I was wrestling guys from all high school ages.”
In that tournament, Hughes won his first three matches in the 99-man 152-pound bracket, with decision wins over opponents from Virginia and New Jersey bracketing a pin against a Pennsylvania wrestler.
It was the losses, however, that Hughes talked about.
He was pinned by three-time Florida champion Fox Baldwin in the third period (Baldwin wound up fifth) and then missed out on a top-8 finish with a 4-3 loss to Austin Eades, a two-time champ from Oklahoma.
Rix said the losses showed Hughes he’ll need to add more strength and power on his surprisingly lean 5-foot-11 frame.
“He’s taking a different attitude toward weight training now,” Rix said.
All of these lessons equate to bad news for Hughes’ in-state opponents.
Hughes enters this season with a 97-6 high school record. Last season he went 43-2.
One loss came to a Rhode Island wrestler at the Spartan Invitational in Sanford when Hughes was still wearing a protective mask due to a broken nose. The other was in the New England Championship semifinal. Hughes finished third.
“I still haven’t won New Englands. That’s always right there,” he says quickly.
Hughes also routinely goes to Danville, N.H., to train at Smitty’s Wrestling Barn, the offseason home for many wrestlers from Timberlane High, the perennial New Hampshire Division I champion. He also trains with the Eliot-based Southern Maine Trappers.
“He’s put his time in and he’s starting to enjoy the benefits and he’ll definitely be going somewhere to college and he shouldn’t be paying for college,” Rix said.
Right now, though, his focus is on Marshwood, which is seeking a third straight team title.
“I want to try to pin my way through states. Those pin points add up and that can help the team win another state title,” Hughes said.
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at: [email protected]