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Led By Six Individual Champions, Avery Wins Another State Team High School Wrestling Championship

Courtesy of Avery County High School

By Tim Gardner

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association State 1-A Wrestling Championship Tournaments could as aptly be called the Avery High Wrestling Invitational in recent years with the successes the Vikings have earned in them.

Avery had a record six individual state champions among the 14 weight classes on day three (February 18) of the 2023 1-A Individual State Wrestling Tournament held at the Greensboro Coliseum to propel the Vikings to a fourth consecutive state team-tournament crown.

Avery also captured both the dual-team and the team-tournament state titles in 2020, winning the team-tournament in 2021 when dual-team was not available due to the Coronavirus (COVID) Pandemic and the dual-team and team titles again in 2022. Avery made it back to the 2023 season dual-team state championship, although the Vikings lost to Uwharrie Charter Academy by a narrow 39-36 final.

But winning the team-tournament title ended the 2022-23 season on a colossal high. After the three-day tournament, Avery finished with 134.5 team points, seven better than second-place Robbinsville (127.5). Uwharrie Charter Academy came in third with 112 points. The rest of the tournament’s top ten teams were far behind the top three. Swain County compiled 56 points, to edge Thomasville (55.5 points) for fourth place. Cherryville followed in sixth place with 45.5 points. Pamlico County was
seventh, compiling 45 points. Rosewood finished eight with 42 points. Alleghany County came in ninth with 36 points, and Starmount was tenth with 34.5.

Entering the championship round, Avery trailed Robbinsville by five points, before rallying to take the title.

In a statement to High Country Press, Avery head coach Matthew Dunn said: “This was an amazing and unexpected event. We were supposed to be down this year having graduated eight seniors, six of whom were state finalists.  Additionally, we had two number one ranked wrestlers in the state
not even come out for wrestling this year.  We had a lot of struggles early in the season, but were held together by an outstanding group of leaders.  We knew how good these wrestlers could be, but some just waited to the absolute end of the year to show it.  This has been an incredibly hard year for all of us, but our team members worked harder than any group I have ever coached.

“I am so proud to have been part of this group.  They had to pull off a miracle to win this one (state championship), but somehow, they did it.  This was the first time in history that any program has had six individual champions in one day and we needed every single point to pull it out.  We narrowly pulled it through in the last matches of the weekend. 

“It’s amazing how humbling victory can be.  On the ride home all you think about is how grateful you are to all those that made it possible and how much you owe others for what was just achieved.  Our coaching staff and the group that started these wrestlers at the Dogtown Wrestling Club deserve all the credit.”   

Fayetteville Seventy-First High set the previous record for most individual state champions in a single season with five during the 1996-97 season. Avery and Parkland High later tied that record. But Avery broke it this season with the not only amazing, but astounding six wrestlers earning state championships. Those wrestlers and Dunn’s comments about each include:

*Tristan Adams repeated as state champion at 152 pounds, taking an 8-4 decision over Cherryville’s Chase Miller.

“Tristan had his best performance of the season at the state championships,” Dunn said. “Tristan never let the pressure get to him as he laughed and stayed super relaxed during the entire event.  He is a senior and finishes as a two-time state champion with more than 100 career wins.” 

*Grant Reece won by decision (4-3) over Ryan Mann of North East Carolina Prep in the 132 pound class to capture his second consecutive state title.

“Grant won his second state title in the absolute last seconds of the match, almost causing simultaneous heart attacks for our entire aging coaching staff,” Dunn shared.  “Grant is one of our team captains and finishes the season with a 42-3 record.”  

*Cooper Foster also won by decision at 106 pounds against Uwharrie Charter’s Ethan Hines, 1-0.

Dunn said: “Cooper finishes the season with a perfect 52-0 record and he is only a sophomore. His father, Kevin, is the founder and operator of the Dogtown Wrestling Club….also known as (aka) the Godfather and architect of Avery Wrestling.”

*Seth Blackledge won at 195 pounds with a first-period pin against Uwharrie Charter’s Jadon Maness for his second state crown.

“Seth was the rock of our wrestling program this season,” Dunn stated. “Seth won his second state title and made his third finals appearance.  Hehad three first period pins in the state finals–a very dominant performance.”  

*Benjamin Jordan defeated Pamlico County’s Marcus Tyson by pinfall in the 120-pound class.

“Benjamin is a junior and his dominance is displayed by the fact that he barely made it out of the first period for the entire regional and state tournament to win his second consecutive state title,” Dunn noted.

Cael Dunn, freshman son of the Vikings head coach Matthew Dunn, won by decision (1-0) in the 170-pound class over defending state champion Grayson Roberts of Uwharrie Charter.

Coach Dunn said of his son: “Cael finishes the year with a 56-1 record.  He defeated a returning state champion and senior in the finals, and was our sixth champ of the day, breaking the previous record. Cael has had a great season and finishes the season as the top ranked freshman in the state, according to Rank Wrestling, among all weight classes and all classifications.”

Complete results of the tournament’s championship finals in each weight class with the names of wrestlers, their school, their individual season record and how and/or when they won the match were:

106 Pounds- Cooper Foster (Avery County, 49-0) won by decision over Ethan Hines (Uwharrie Charter, 46-7) (Decision 1-0)

113 Pounds- Alexis Panama (Robbinsville, 38-5) won by fall over Josue Gomez (Thomasville, 48-3) (Fall 2:44)

120 Pounds- Benjamin Jordan (Avery County, 46-3) won by fall over Marcus Tyson (Pamlico County, 49-2) (Fall 3:45)

126 Pounds- Carlos Vasquez (Thomasville, 50-0) won by technical fall over Eli Thomas (Alleghany, 33-19) (Technical Fall-1.5 4:12 (17-2))

132 Pounds- Grant Reece (Avery County, 41-2) won by decision over Ryan Mann (North East Carolina Prep, 56-1) (Decision 4-3)

138 Pounds- Aldo Hernandez (Uwharrie Charter, 52-2) won by tech fall over Cameron Worrick (Alleghany, 38-13) (Technical Fall-1.5 4:39 (22-5))

145 Pounds- Lorenzo Alston (Uwharrie Charter, 54-2) won by major decision over Willie Riddle (Robbinsville, 35-18) (Major Decision 11-3)

152 Pounds- Tristan Adams (Avery County, 36-2) won by decision over Chase Miller (Cherryville, 42-6) (Decision 8-4)

160 Pounds- Suhaib Hatamleh (Bradford Prep, 33-5) won by decision over Turner Jackson (Robbinsville, 43-13) (Decision 3-1)

170 Pounds- Cael Dunn (Avery County, 51-1) won by decision over Grayson Roberts (Uwharrie Charter, 50-5) (Decision 1-0)

182 Pounds- Kage Williams (Robbinsville, 57-0) won by fall over Darius Saunooke (Swain County, 25-12) (Fall 3:23)

195 Pounds- Seth Blackledge (Avery County, 50-2) won by fall over Jadon Maness (Uwharrie Charter, 25-6) (Fall 1:33)

220 Pounds- Koleson Dooley (Robbinsville, 30-8) won by decision over Tyler Stevens (Pamlico County, 38-13) (Decision 5-2)

285 Pounds- Kohlton Neadeau (Swain County, 49-7) won by decision over Johnatan Argueta (Starmount, 36-6) (Decision11-6)

In the tournament’s consolation semifinals, Avery’s Mason Bentley (41-14) lost by decision (9-5) to Eastern Randolph’s Adrian Lopez (35-7) at 126 pounds.

“Mason did not win a state title, but he did a great job at the tournament and scored vital points for our team,” Coach Dunn said.  And in its consolation first round, Mount Airy’s Alex Cox (24-9) won by a 5-2 decision at 138 pounds over Avery’s Staley Griffith (17-22).

Coach Dunn said of Griffith: “He actually had not wrestled for several years.  (He) came to the team and really struggled early in the season.  He was able to persevere the hard times and make it to the state tournament….  A huge success for him and evidence of (his) great improvements this year.”

Courtesy of Avery County High School