GREENSBORO — For its entire existence of 51 years, Avery High School athletics has never had the ability to lay claim to a state team championship in any sport.
The school has had past opportunities to hang a championship banner, including in wrestling during the 1992 NCHSAA State Duals, where on Feb. 8 of that year, the Vikings fell one bout short of defeating Dixon High School in Viking Gym for a state title. Eighteen years later, the Avery girls soccer team made it to the 1A state finals match in Raleigh, but came up short to opposing Southwest Onslow.
The third time was indeed the charm, however, as the 2020 1A Wrestling State Duals Championship was won in dramatic fashion by the Big Red as it upended fellow 1A power Uwharrie Charter School by a 35-30 final score before a predominantly red-wearing and raucous rooting crowd of Vikings supporters inside the Fieldhouse at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex on Saturday, Feb. 8, exactly 28 years to the day following Avery’s previous appearance at the finals of the state duals.
“This community has believed in this program and support has been amazing. These guys have worked so hard and the community embraced them. It has taken everybody to win this championship,” Avery head coach Matthew Dunn said immediately following the Vikings’ clinching of the title. “Everybody from the start of the year has pushed us to do this.”
Avery jumped out to an early lead in the match, scoring the first points as Ethan Shell earned a 19-6 major decision victory over UCS’s Gage Beal at 120 pounds. Teammate Jonah Hayes earned a 6-4 decision win over UCS’s Austin Kennedy at 126 pounds to take a 7-0 lead. The advantage nearly doubled as River Griffith pinned UCS wrestler Byan Lackey in just 28 seconds in the 132-pound class to spot the Big Red a 13-0 lead.
Avery’s Tristan Adams defeated Uwharrie’s Drew Shelton by 13-3 major decision at 138 pounds to give the Vikings a 17-0 advantage before UCS earned its first points of the match, a 9-4 decision victory by Grayson Roberts over Johnathan Cable at 145 pounds to narrow the deficit to 17-3.
UCS earned two more consecutive wins to draw closer. Jerry Jimenez won by 12-6 decision over Avery’s Bradley Parker at 152 pounds to pull within 17-6, then teammate Doug Bowles pinned Avery’s Seth Blackledge at the 160-pound class to draw the match to within five points at 17-12.
Needing to shift momentum, Avery received a boost from Dalton Towe at 170 pounds, who won a hard-fought 4-0 decision over UCS’s Cameron Clark to pull ahead 20-12. Viking teammate Lucas Andrews, who was celebrating his 18th birthday on the mat, gave himself and his teammates the gift of points, as he pinned Uwharrie’s Jamie Bernal in 5:34 to expand the Avery edge to 26-12.
In an exciting bout at 195 pounds, Avery’s Dakota Hudson left it all on the mat in his battle against Uwharrie’s Aiden Carter, but Carter emerged with a pinfall win in the final second of the match to earn six points for his club and slice into Avery’s overall lead.
The NCHSAA partnered with North Carolina Farm Bureau Insurance to recognize one wrestler from each Dual Team Wrestling state finalist with the 2020 Sportsmanship Awards. with Hudson earning the award from the Avery squad.
At the 220-pound class, reigning state champion Levi Andrews took care of business by pinning Uwharrie Charter’s Jaden Marion in 40 seconds to stake Avery to a 32-18 lead.
Knowing that Avery would forfeit matches at the 106- and 113-pound weight classes, respectively, and give the Eagles 12 free points, the winner of the 285-pound bout between Avery’s Zachary Vance and Uwharrie Charter’s Sergio Saldana was the deciding, winner-take-all bout of the match.
In the contest, Vance stepped up in dominating fashion to help push the Vikings across the proverbial finish line, as Vance racked up points in the second period to build a lead and controlled the final period of the match for a 7-0 decision win to clinch the championship and send the partisan Avery faithful into a frenzy.
For his performance under pressure, Vance was named as the 1A Championship Most Outstanding Wrestler.
“It all came down to Zack, and he’s the kind of kid that you can put that kind of pressure on his shoulders and he just humbly walked with it,” Dunn added. “That’s a kid you can trust in the room and on the mat. He’s a great kid and I love him and his teammate love him. It’s like he was unshaken and so cool in that match with all that was at stake. He goes out and beats the No. 2 wrestler in the state by seven points and it’s just an outstanding effort.”
The entire match, including its roller coaster of emotional highs and lows, was the ride the Vikings endured to bring home the top prize. Dunn noted that the little things made all the difference in the Big Red’s performance in earning the championship medals.
“I think one of the differences in the match was that our guys went out there constantly looking to score points. I think the other team was a little more hesitant and looking for more moves, but with our guys, there was never a point where we weren’t out there believing and going after points,” Dunn said. “Some of that was just faith in each other, and some of that was in conditioning, but we were constantly looking to win and score points. We weren’t satisfied with just going out to win by decision, but we were working to get that pin or major decision or tech fall, and that was the effort we showed. We can’t win this match if we just win decisions. They had to go out and sacrifice that extra effort, and that’s what they accomplished.”
Avery Wrestling received a hero’s welcome, showered with a long standing ovation by the Viking faithful during a recognition at halftime of the boys basketball game on Monday, Feb. 10, in Viking Gym. Avery wrestles at Mt. Airy in the 1A West Regional individual tournament this weekend, with top four finishers qualifying for the following weekend’s 1A state championships.