CRANBERRY — Avery High School Wrestling honored a pair of senior grapplers during its regular season home dual finale against Mitchell High School on June 8 at Cranberry Middle School Gymnasium. Vikings senior wrestlers Jonah Hayes and Dalton Towe were recognized with their respective families midway through the dual, which saw the Big Red cap a 20-0 regular season record as a team with a 72-12 match win over the Mountaineers.
North Davidson was slated to join Avery and Mitchell to make the event a tri-meet, but North was unable to make the trek up the mountain for the event, giving forfeit wins to both Avery and Mitchell, leaving the Vikings and Mountaineers to renew acquaintances themselves on the mat for the lone competition for the evening.
Francisco Turja opened the scoring for the Vikings in the first bout, winning by first period pinfall over Mitchell's Halley Wheeler at 106 pounds. At 113 pounds, Ben Jordan was a winner by forfeit, while Mitchell's Shilo Brandt was victorious by forfeit at 120 pounds.
Grant Reece picked up a win by forfeit for Avery at 126 pounds, as teammate Ethan Shell capture a win by pinfall in 51 seconds over Mitchell opponent Adrian Mores at 132 pounds.
Senior Hayes earned a pinfall win in his final regular season home appearance, winning in 1:30 in front of the home crowd over Mitchell foe Carson Phillips at 138 pounds. At 145 pounds, Avery's Johnathan Cable won by pinfall in 28 seconds over Mountaineer opponent Savannah Pollard, with teammate Tristan Adams winning by pinfall in 60 seconds over Mitchell's Serenity Sobolefski at 152 pounds.
Both Avery wrestlers Bradley Parker (160 pounds) and Seth Blackledge (170 pounds) won by forfeit in their respective bouts, and Avery senior Towe came away a winner in his final regular season match in a Viking uniform, upending Mitchell opponent Allison Queriapa by pinfall in 56 seconds at 182 pounds.
Mitchell earned its only competition win at 195 pounds, as Mountaineer Camron Cook earned a win in 1:30 over Avery's Dakota Hoilman. Viking Zach Vance was victorious by forfeit at 220 pounds, while Viking Levi Andrews won by first period pinfall over MHS opponent Justice Sobolefski.
"I thought Mitchell did a great job of putting out everybody they had, man or woman, and they went out and wrestled, and I was so proud of them. I told them how proud I was of their ability and willingness to wrestle us," Vikings interim head coach Hank Hardin said following the win. "A lot of teams don't want to wrestle us or take a loss, and Mitchell wanted to wrestle, which is how you build back a program. Mitchell is historically an unbelievably strong program. It was good for them to come and show up. We also were able to match up with everybody we could possibly match up for exhibition bouts, and we just want mat time. We have kids wrestling two-a-days, and they just want to wrestle and practice and see what they need to work on. Even though the match didn't last a long time, at least we got the thrill of getting ready to wrestle and wrestling."
The dual preserved the Vikings' unbeaten team record leading into the conference tournament at Madison on June 10, pushing momentum ahead to the upcoming 1A Western Regional on Tuesday, June 15, at Robbinsville High School.
"We have high expectations for the conference, and we're going to get ready for the regional at Robbinsville and that's a big deal," Hardin added. "This team is hungry for matches and are upset when they don't get matches, and our goals are always to win conference, then win regionals, then win state. That's our goal both as individuals and as a team. In this strange Covid year and wrestling in summer, a lot of teams are not full and are sliding out, and we're just getting stronger and developing this mental toughness."
Hardin shared thoughts on the team's pair of seniors, Hayes and Towe, and their significance to the program.
"I knew Jonah for a long time through Dogtown Wrestling, and I'd work with him and Waylon Griffith, all the staff we've had through the years. I've watched him develop and become better at his style, which looks really good. I'm really thinking that he is going to win a state championship after taking third last year. He's primed and ready to go," Hardin said. "I've been watching Dalton from the stands and saw him come into the program later, and he's such an athlete. He has this mental toughness that you can't buy. He has really become a very good wrestler. He did it in a shorter time than most of our kids, who have been wrestling longer and were in Dogtown. He came in and learned from them and learned the technique and positioning. He is truly a well-rounded athlete and is a pleasure to watch in the room and coach. Both these wrestlers are fine young men and it's a pleasure to be around the kind of people that Jonah and Dalton are."
Following upcoming conference and regional events, Avery will have 10 days before states, where the team will work to maintain its intensity and preparation for the wrestlers' most crucial tournament of the season.
"We are peaking and are looking great. Our takedowns and footwork are dominant. You want to qualify for the state tournament, and if you don't peak, you don't get there. After regionals, we have 10 days where we're able to go off and wrestle other competition, other teams and other qualifiers," Harden explained. "We'll go do whatever we have to do to find the competition we need to get even more peaked for the state. Our goal is to win another state championship, and you do that by having as many good individuals as you can. This coaching staff has done a tremendous job with working with each individual and individual personality and body type, and the staff at Avery has done a fantastic job with getting each kid ready to peak. This is going to be a record-setting team if things come together."