RUTHERFORDTON — Five East Surry wrestlers and Mount Airy’s Jackson Blizzard have qualified for the state tournament in Greensboro.
The Cardinals and Bears competed in the 1A regional wrestling tournament over the weekend at Isothermal Community College.
Wrestlers in each weight class competed in 16-man fields with only the top four finishers moving on to the state event Thursday through Saturday at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The five wrestlers who qualified for the Cards were: Eddie Nunez (106 lbs.), Jacob Fregia (160), Cody Gaskill (195), Greg UpChurch (220) and Chad Woods (heavyweight). Blizzard qualified for 106 lbs.
UpChurch continues to make believers of people by winning the regional championship.
UpChurch (39-2) won the conference tournament at 220, but saw the wrestler he beat (Wes Brown) get co-wrestler of the year along with North Surry’s Logan Younger.
At the regional tournament, he did get a first-round bye, but then he had two of the state’s best wrestlers in his side of the draw.
Retro Rankings has UpChurch rated first, Alleghany’s Adam Gambill second and West Wilkes’ Cody Lefler fourth. Yet, Gambill and Lefler were in his draw. Meanwhile Hendersonville’s Rhett Hoy, ranked fifth, got the second seed and only had South Stokes’ Brandon Lawson (ranked fourth) in his draw.
UpChurch pinned Lefler in the third round, then earned an 8-4 decision over Gambill to face Dayshawn Blackman, who pinned Hoy in the semifinals. UpChurch pinned Blackman in the third period for the title.
In the consolation bracket, Gambill pinned Lawson to reach the third-place match against Hoy, who beat Lefler. Gambill pinned Hoy early in the second period for third place.
Teammate Fregia also is ranked first in the state for his weight. He beat three opponents to reach the finals against Tavi Rivera, Cherokee, who is ranked second. Rivera edged Fregia 2-1.
East Wilkes’ Cody Haubrich, an honorable mention in the rankings, lost to Fregia, but came back to take fourth place and qualify for state.
Nunez finished the regular season on an 18-1 streak. After finishing fourth in the Northwest Conference’s most packed weight class, Nunez finished second in the regional.
Ranked sixth in the state, Nunez faced Brandon Reynolds, West Wilkes, the fourth-ranked wrestler, in the semifinals. He beat Reynolds to advance to face Zack Orr, the top seed and the second-ranked wrestler at 106. Orr took that match by an 11-6 decision.
The Bears’ Blizzard lost a decision to Reynolds to fall into the consolation bracket. He then pinned two opponents and earned a 5-2 decision over North Wilkes’ Jose Aguilar, an honorable mention in the rankings.
In the third-place match, Blizzard had a rematch with Reynolds and bested the talented freshman 5-2.
Chad Woods is ranked seventh in 1A and was the fourth seed in the brackets. He lost a major decision in the second round to Chris Craze, Murphy, 15-5. Craze then lost to Cherokee’s Sam Wahnetah, the top-ranked wrestler in the state and the eventual regional champion.
In the consolation bracket, Woods beat Mount Airy’s Brian Bennett and two other opponents to reach the third-place match against Craze again. This time Woods edged him 3-2 to finish 5-1 on the day. That boosted his record to 26-9 on the year.
One wild card for the Cardinals was junior Cody Gaskill. While most wrestlers have 30 to 40 matches under their belts by now, he went into the tournament with only 14 matches this season.
Gaskill had a decent 10-4 record, but a closer look reveals that his four losses were to three of the best wrestlers in the West. He lost only to Austin Riggs, Timothy Daniel and Omar Aguilar, who went a combined 97-30 this season.
In the regional, he won his first match, then dropped a narrow 4-2 decision to top-seeded Spencer McCoy, Robbinsville.
In the consolation bracket, Gaskill pinned two opponents, then earned a 7-5 win over Matthew Parce, Hendersonville, the top-ranked wrestler in the state.
In the third-place match, he faced off against McCoy, who was upset by East Wilkes’ Zach Faircloth.
Gaskill battled to a 3-all tie with McCoy, then beat him 4-3 in overtime.
Faircloth ended up as the 195 champion, one of seven wrestlers from the surrounding area who took home a title.
West Wilkes earned five titles, and Bishop McGuinness’ Patrick O’Shea won 152.
The five Blackhawks winning a title were Jake St. Germain (113), Dustin Huffman (120), Jose Lima (126), J.J. LaPlante (132) and Devin Fussell (138). West’s Hayden Sutphin was second at 170.
Between the Northwest and Mountain Valley conferences, 26 wrestlers placed in the top four of the 14 weight classes. That’s 46 percent of the 56 available slots.
The 1A wrestlers have their weigh-in at 11:30 a.m. Friday. Then the matches begin at 1 p.m.
All four school classes will hold their semifinals at the same time on various mats beginning at 6 p.m.
Then on Saturday, the remaining wrestlers have weigh-in at 7 a.m. with matches starting at 8:30 a.m. The championship finals and award ceremony begins around 5 p.m.
Reach Jeff Linville at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1920.