January 23, 2014

Sooner than expected: Bruins sophomore Gembe on his way

Northwest Whitfield High School wrestling coach Allen Tucker couldn’t say exactly what he expected from Bryan Gembe.

He knows one thing, though — he didn’t expect the sophomore to succeed so soon.

Gembe, the Bruins’ starting 106-pounder, is 44-10 with the Area 7-4A traditional tournament quickly approaching. Northwest will join Dalton, Southeast Whitfield and the rest of Area 7-4A’s programs at Cass High School for the tournament on Jan. 31-Feb. 1. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to sectionals, where the top eight placers will qualify for state.

Tucker classified this season as a “180-degree turn” from where Gembe was as a freshman, when he was just a middle-of-the-road wrestler on Northwest’s junior varsity team.

“He didn’t win a lot of matches,” Tucker said. “I’m telling you, something happened this summer. He wrestled a few tournaments during the summer. We took him to a JV meet at the beginning of the year and he didn’t get beat. So we wrestled for the 106 spot and he just took off.

“A light just went off.”

Gembe’s explanation is that he devoted more time to the sport. He started wrestling as a sixth-grader but never spent summers working at the craft until the most recent one.

“I like the sport and saw other kids doing well,” he said. “I didn’t expect to do this well.”

Tucker has an additional reason for Gembe’s success — the wrestler altered his style in matches, which led to greater success scoring on his feet in the neutral position. That’s where every match starts, and it offers a chance to set the tone for the rest of the bout.

“He got so much more aggressive,” he said. “... He started putting pressure on people and backing kids up. Then he started getting confidence in (scoring takedowns).”

Gembe agreed with his coach’s assessment.

“I think it has helped,” he said. “When you’re really aggressive, you can break people down.”

Tucker didn’t envision Gembe standing out as a sophomore. He thought the lightweight’s shining years would be as an upperclassman.

“I didn’t think he’d be able to start for me until his junior year, and even that I wasn’t sure,” Tucker said. “But he has worked in the offseason like he is supposed to and has turned it on.”

The coach expects a top-four seed for Gembe in the upcoming area tournament. Tucker can’t recall many losses this season for Gembe at 106, and the few he’s had were to top-notch wrestlers.

“He has wrestled at 113 a lot this year,” Tucker said. “That’s where most of his losses have come. I think he lost to a nationally ranked kid from Pennsylvania and twice to a two-time state champ from Baylor. He’s only lost once (against an Area 7-4A opponent), the kid from Cass.”

Gembe hasn’t wrestled in an area traditional tournament before, but Tucker doesn’t believe that will phase Gembe, who handles big moments with bigger performances.

“He’s one of the best kids I have (at dealing) with pressure,” Tucker said. “In big matches, it doesn’t bother him. He goes out and wrestles the same match with the same pace. He doesn’t let pressure wilt him. Some of the older guys let pressure get to him. That kid doesn’t.”

It’s a good thing, because Gembe already sees himself doing big things for the Bruins.

“I want to go past area and make it to state this year,” he said.

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