Whether it’s burying his nose in his studies or trying to learn something new, the Orange County senior wrestler strives to be the best.
“It’s hard to use one phrase or comment to describe Solo,” said Orange County wrestling coach Bryan Seal. “He is one of the hardest workers in the room. Even though he has begun to excel, he is humble. He hods others accountable, including himself. Of course, he takes care of his responsibilities in the classroom. He’s the type of student-athlete every one wishes they had on their team.
Mthethwa has been a true catalyst for the Hornets wrestling team this season, compiling a 24-1 individual record to establish himself as one of the elite grapplers in Central Virginia.
“This season is one I have been looking forward to since I started wrestling,” Mthethwa said. “I’ve worked extremely hard during the offseason and am confident in my ability to obtain the state championship title.”
People are also reading…
What makes this accomplishment even more amazing is the fact that he only took up the sport four years ago.
“Growing up, I always played some form of sports, like basketball and soccer, but I found them very boring and simply used them as a way to pass the time when I was not working on my academics,” Mthethwa said.
At the age of 12, Mthethwa took up boxing and was immediately infatuated with the individual, combat aspect of the sport. However, he was unable to dedicate enough time to the sport as he wanted.
Two years later, he found another activity to occupy his free time in a unique way.
Solo and his older brother Sihle, a former basketball standout at Orange County, were “play fighting” in their house while their mother, Rachel Carlton, who teaches African American studies at Orange County and World History and senior internship program’s at the Blue Ridge Virginia School, was at work.
“When they play fight, they always wrestle, play box and chase each other,” Carlton recalled. “Yet, they know that they are not allowed to do this in the house, which they always get reprimanded for since they were two and four. Well, like normal, they did not listen and decided to play fight in the living room while I was at work. In the midst of wrestling each other, Solo took off from his brother and somehow fell on our runner rug and slid into the wall. Both of his knees went straight into a wall and he poked two knee-sized holes in one of the walls.”
Carlton was not amused. She took pictures of the damage and showed them to her colleagues at school to inquire about the best ways to fix the holes.
“As soon as I showed Coach Seal, we had a good laugh,” Carlton said. “Then he told me that he wanted Solo to train with his team and try out. I told Solo what Coach Seal said when I got home from work and Solo was excited because he never thought about wrestling before. Then his brother, Solo and I, headed to Lowe’s so they could buy all the materials to fix our living.”
“He made a comment that I should use some of that free time I had to join the wrestling team because I had nothing else to do in the summer,” he said. “I decided to join. I instantly fell in love with the sport and the environment it creates. For the first time, I began doing a sport because of my love for it, rather than just to fill up my time.”
But it wasn’t until his visit to Lycoming College’s wrestling camp in Williamsport where the true infatuation with the sport began.
“Upon going to the camp, I only had about a week’s worth of wrestling experience,” Mthethwa said. “What really drew me in was the team. I enjoyed being surrounded by strong, like-minded individuals. Taylor Jenkins, K.J. Taylor, Alex Burley, and Jackson Garnett all accepted an inexperienced wrestler like me on the team as an equal. Despite me being way behind and needing constant help to get a grasp of the sport, they all helped me with their abundance of patience with me and kindness.”
He also credited Seal, a two-time state champion at Orange County as a wrestler, for helping set a perfect example for him in the sport.
“During my time at the Lycoming Camp, I saw how genuine of a person he was and how he truly wanted to see his athletes accomplish their goals,” Mthethwa said. “I gained an immense respect for him when I saw him drive back and forth from Virginia to Pennsylvania two times to balance his family life and being a coach. It is due to their patience with me and genuinely wanting to see me succeed that made me continue pursuing greatness in the sport of wrestling.”
It has been a long four years for Mthethwa, as he’s experienced many highs and lows in the sport. As a freshman, he didn’t get much mat time as the Hornets had several veteran wrestlers ahead of him on the depth charge. COVID-19 shortened his sophomore campaign, but he has made the most of every opportunity to compete in the sport.
“What makes wrestling such a great sport is how laborious it is,” Mthethwa said. “Between cutting weight, practices and the many tournaments, wrestling is one of the hardest sports in the world. Although, because it is not an extremely popular sport in America, wrestlers often do not receive full recognition they should for putting in all the work they do. The only glory exists in the grind and the victory. This creates a mindset and discipline that is entirely different from any sport I have ever seen. Wrestlers do not pursue fame, money, or any other superficial goal. They pursue a victory simply for the sake of winning.”
As a junior, he finished third at the Region 4D wrestling championships with an 18-12 victory over Amherst County’s Jacob Campbell in the consolation finals and was part of an Orange County team that captured the VHSL Region 4D title.
At the Class 4 state tournament, Mthethwa finished with a 1-2 record, including an 3-0 decision over Dominion’s Logan Jones. Driven to improve, he worked out during the offseason at ADAPT in Charlottesville with Coaches Kenny Szabo and Kris Bland as he prepared to move up in weight class for his final season.
“They have helped me build the strength and conditioning I needed to be successful in a new weight class,” Mthethwa said. “ It has been interesting bumping up a class, I have had to make some changes in my style and techniques to be successful. Although I am extremely excited to be wrestling at 175, especially as regionals and states are coming up, and I’ll be able to wrestle some very competitive matches.”
The results speak for themselves as Mthethwa has posted a 24-1 record in the 175-pound division on the season. He was injured during the Madison County tournament nearly two weeks ago, but is expected to return to the mat for the postseason.
“This season is one I have been looking forward to since I started wrestling,” Mthethwa said. “I’ve worked extremely hard during the offseason and am confident in my ability to obtain the state championship title. This year, our team is pretty young, but they are all extremely dedicated to the sport and have shown so much improvement since last year and over this season.”
Going back to his boxing roots, Mthethwa said his favorite athlete of all time is former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
“I have always looked up to Mike Tyson as an athlete,” he said. “His tenacity in boxing is one of a kind that any other athlete has yet to succeed.”
The Orange County senior has become quite the student of the sport of wrestling. Jordan Burroughs, who won gold for the U.S. at the 2012 Olympic Games is one of his favorites.
“Our styles of overwhelming opponents with offense were very similar and I initially based my style on him and his signature move, the blast double,” he said. “Recently, I have been specifically studying Iowa’s Austin Desanto and Spencer Lee, Virginia Tech’s Mehki Lewis and Penn State’s Carter Starocci and Cael Sanderson. All these wrestlers are relentless with their attacks and consistently strive to be better.”
When Mthethwa steps on the mat, he prefers to be the hunter.
“My wrestling style is definitely an extremely offensive attack-based style,” Mthethwa said. “Because of how late I started wrestling, compared to other who have been in the sport since they could walk, I have had to create a style that overwhelms my opponent with my speed, strength and stamina.”
Off the mat, Mthethwa is just as dedicated. An honor roll student, the senior is in line to earn valedictorian honors for his graduating class.
In addition, Mthethwa is the co-founder and president of the Youth Club at Orange County, which strives to bring positive change to the community by providing students with a voice, as well as providing various acts of service. He is also president of the Academic Scholar Institute Club, along with good friend Seth Duncan, which provides a space for young Black men to prosper.
After high school, he hopes to further his wrestling career at the next level.
“Future wrestling goals for me are an NCAA wrestling champion title, and eventually an Olympic gold medal in the sport,” Mthethwa said. “After college, I hope to continue wrestling and balance my athletic life with an occupation as a computer engineer.”