Star grapplers Latham, Isley rack up records for SouthviewWritten by Scott Calhoun | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As the top wrestlers for Sylvania Southview, senior Alex Latham and junior Greg Isley make a perfect case study in the art of contrast and comparison. First and foremost, there is their representation as the best Cougars on the mat.
“Greg and Alex are the team leaders,” said coach Jim Comstock.
Both are in their sixth year competing in the sport.
Isley began wrestling in sixth grade, but didn’t find success until junior high. Latham began in seventh grade and found success immediately, losing three matches his first year and just one in eighth grade.
Each was a Northern Lakes League champion and Division I state qualifier a year ago.
As a junior, Latham won a sectional title at Rogers High School before taking second place in the Mentor district tournament as a 125-pounder.
As a sophomore, Isley likewise won a sectional crown at Rogers at 189, before matching Latham with a runner-up finish at Mentor.
The pair joined senior 152-pound district champ Gabe Garcia in Columbus. While Garcia went on to end his career with an eighth-place finish at states, Latham and Isley hit identical roadblocks, going 1-2 and unable to surpass the consolation second round.
Seeking the same postseason goal this winter fits in neatly to their parallel postseason performances of a year ago, something equally imprinted with their names marked in orange paint on the team’s practice room wall that honors Cougars who’ve won league titles.
Latham, currently 24-2 at 130 pounds, has won tournament titles at his school’s invitational and the Mary E. Kerr Waite Invitational. Isley also won the 189-pound title at Waite, pinning Liberty Center’s Chad McClory with less than two seconds remaining in their title match.
Latham possesses 124 career wins and is moving toward the all-time NLL record of 138 set last year by then-Rossford senior Jeremy Espinoza.
If Latham finishes on top of the NLL career wins list, his younger counterpart will be in excellent position to exceed him, leaving them potentially side by side as the top two all time in that department.
At 22-4 this year, Isley owns 86 wins to date. His total stands to top out at more than 100 by season’s end with his senior campaign still remaining.
Latham and Isley also share critical leadership roles. Beyond their personal successes, the program is laden with teammates who are young or inexperienced or both.
The Cougars are struggling this year with a 2-14 dual mark, and a 0-6 record in the NLL.
While seeking their own fulfillments, Latham and Isley are trying to leave their wisdoms and talents marked on the future of the program.
“The great thing about Alex as a leader is he’s got that extra two-bit to add,” Isley said. “When we’re showing a move, he’s got that little bit that’s subtle, but it really makes the whole move. That’s the little things you need, especially when you’re learning like some of these kids are, coming in as freshmen.”
“They’re both doing an excellent job at showing my kids how to work harder and how to push yourself to make it to the next level,” Comstock said. “Each of them have their own things to show the other kids.”
Which begins marking their differences, although inextricably bound by their similarities.
For one, Isley is also an All-NLL standout middle linebacker and fullback on the league champion football team. He partially attributes to his success in both sports by his participation in each.
“With football, it’s about being able to get ready to go at that certain moment,” Isley said, “and that helps me when I get on the mat — I can just turn it on. But wrestling probably helps me more on the field. It teaches me how to leverage my weight.”
Whereas Isley didn’t start his winter occupation until after the football team exited the state playoffs following a regional final loss Nov. 16, Latham concentrates solely on wrestling after giving up soccer two years ago.
“He wrestled last summer, so he basically got in a total second season,” said Comstock, “so he’s stronger mentally than he was last year and he’s improved his top position.”
On the mat, the medium-built Latham is a patient, leg-oriented wrestler who often feels out his opponents and, at times, allows them to get a lead early on, before snake biting them with strategic responses that result in oft-artistic victories.
“Especially in the lighter weights, it’s about technique and quickness,” Latham said. “I try to stay well-rounded, as far as how good I am in all the categories. I’m definitely better on the mat; I’m a pretty good leg-rider. I also have an unorthodox sitting (Indian style) position that helps me escape.”
Isley is cut like a tank, and uses a blend of strength and relative speed to overpower his foes with an aggressive attacking approach that often leads to pins.
“I think I’ve only seen people get off their back underneath Greg twice,” Comstock said. “He’s a very aggressive top wrestler.”
“Because of the weight, a lot of people like to tie up, so I try to use a lot of slide-bys,” Isley said. “I use finesse to try get a bigger opponent down, and if not I go for a lot of ankle picks. When I’m on top I try to use arm bars; that seems to be working quite a bit for me lately.”
Latham and Isley like to break from the typical practice mold of working within similar weight groups by combating each other.
The disparity in weight classes leads to advantages by one over the other, depending on the circumstance. From the weight differences, each learns or grows by wrestling the other.
“It’s tough for me — especially when we’re on our feet — because Alex is just so quick it gets me circling,” Isley said. “But once I get on top, it’s a whole other game. We benefit in different areas.”
Unless referring to “No. 1,” Latham isn’t concerned with his stats.
In his eyes, doing whatever it takes and making the sacrifices needed to ride the top of the award podium in Columbus is the only thing that matters, all career records aside.
“It’s really not about winning or losing,” Latham said. “My record’s not really on my mind; it’s about where I place at states. The problem with our area is that good kids don’t want to wrestle other good kids around here.
“I just want the other kids in our area to start bumping up in the weight classes to get the good matches with each other, so that they’re able to get better.”
For Isley, piling up record-breaking win totals is something he feels will help measure his success during his prep career.
“Oh yeah, it’s definitely one of my goals,” he said. “I’m on the track to pass [Espinoza and Latham] if I keep doing what I should be doing.”
And Isley has a college-grappling career in mind, while Latham intends to hang up the singlet after this season and concentrate on becoming a physical therapist through an education at Miami of Ohio.
“It’s not like football, where it can make you money,” Latham said. “I’m just going to focus on my desired career. I want to coach when I have a son.”
With all the similarities and differences, nothing weighs in heavier for Latham and Isley than sharing that desired end point every prep wrestler envisions when he steps onto the mat.
“My goal is getting back to states,” Isley said, “but I really do believe I can win the state this year, and that’s my ultimate goal.”
“That’s always been my goal. It all comes down to how bad you really want to win,” Latham said. “If you put your mind to anything, you accomplish it. I’ve just got to keep working and whatever happens, happens.”
If neither reaches the desired end, the two Cougars will always share a legacy scribed on that practice room wall and a definitive career record held in reverence by both school and league.