James Taylor III ended his high school wrestling career on a high note last weekend, just the way he envisioned it.
With his father, Southern High School wrestling coach James Taylor Jr. encouraging him from he edge of the mat, Taylor III won the N.C. High School Athletics Association 3A championship at 195 pounds.
“A lot of work went into it,” said Coach Taylor. “When he came into the high school ranks, he knew he could be a state champ or a two-time champ. He just knew.”
Taylor III indeed has been part of two championships – he played on the Spartan football team that won the 2013 NCHSAA 3A championship, and he’s signed up to play next fall at Shaw.
Never miss a local story.
Saturday in the Greensboro Coliseum, Taylor III completed a four-win run in the NCHSAA championships with a 3-2 victory in the finals over Timothy Johnson (41-3) of Eastern Guilford. It was Taylor’s second straight close win, having claimed a one-point sudden victory in overtime against Wesley Naylor (40-5) of Fayetteville Terry Sanford in the semifinals.
Taylor (40-5) got to the finals by defeating Jonathan Helmick (40-7) of Weddington with a 3-1 decision in the first round and then pinning North Buncombe’s Mikhail Simonovich (31-5) with 42 seconds left in their quarterfinal bout.
After he claimed his final win, Taylor III reflected on what it took to get there.
“The work I put in with my dad – the summers, the Sundays – got me to this point,” he said.
Two more titles for Riverside
Taylor was one of three Durham wrestlers to win a state championship Saturday.
Riverside claimed two 4A champions in seniors Jaquon Sowell (170 pounds) and Gary Whitaker (285). Riverside teammate Araad Sarrami (195) was a runner-up in his weight class.
For Riverside head coach Brandon Palmer, who was the Piedmont Athletics Conference wrestler of the year in 2002, when the school won the first of three straight dual-team state championships, his Pirates’ performance showed him that the program was returning to its perennial powerhouse status.
“These are the guys who really brought Riverside back,” Palmer said.
Sowell (58-1), winning his second straight state championship, did what he does best in the state finals – took the initial lead on Ragsdale’s Bryce Walker (42-5) and denied him any escape, resulting in a 1-0 victory.
“I just knew whoever I was going against, I was going to work harder than them,” Sowell said.
Sowell dominated his first three opponents, winning 21-9, 10-4 and 5-2.
Whitaker (47-3) stayed aggressive in his 4-2 victory over Christophe Davis (40-7) of Kernersville Glenn.
The Riverside senior finished third a year ago. This time he advanced thorug a series of close decisions: 3-2 over Lake Norman’s Patrick Dabiero (48-12), 3-1 over Byron Bryant (48-7) of Fayetteville Jack Britt, and 5-4 over Adam Olsen (40-7) of High Point Central.
“I just knew if I’m working to score, they can’t worry about their offense; they have to worry about their defense. If you work hard for six minutes, they can’t score on you,” Whitaker said.
Riverside ended up in sixth place of the 4A final standings with 70 points, while Northern Durham (36 points) was 14th.
Jack Britt (152.5) won the 4A crown after a runner-up finish last year, with Northwest Guilford (124.5) second, Southeast Guilford (79.5) third, Holly Springs (72.5) fourth and Hough (70.5) fifth.
Eden’s Morehead High took the 3A championship, Gastonia’s Hunter Huss the 2A and Mitchell County wrapped up the 1A.
Jack Britt and Mitchell had also claimed the dual-team titles earlier this month.
Northern Durham’s Atavion Oliver and N.C. Science and Math’s Caleb Cox (2A, 126) gave Durham schools two more runner-up finishes in addition to Sarrami’s.
Oliver (48-2), champion of the preceding week’s Midwest Regional, lost for just the second time at 182 pounds when he dropped a 7-3 decision against Hough’s Jordan Thompson (55-1) in the 4A finals.
Cox finished 22-5 in the 2A’s 126-pound weight class after losing a 2-0 decision to Charles McCombs (53-6) of Gastonia Hunter Huss in the championship match.
Northern’s Demazio Samuel (4A, 195), who lost to Sarrami in the semifinals, and Voyager Academy’s Patrick Tomasic (1A, 152) both won consolation bracket finals and earned third-place finishes.
N.C. Science and Math’s Dylan Millson (2A, 152) took a fourth place.