Riverside wrestling coach Brandon Palmer won’t make any promises with regard to his team’s hopes of winning the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A dual-team title this week, but he’ll gladly take his chances with a senior-laden squad that has already surpassed last year’s showing.
The experienced Pirates dispatched Cardinal Gibbons and West Johnston in first and second round matches on Tuesday, toppling host and fellow PAC-6 Conference member Gibbons 43-30 in the first round before earning a 39-32 second-round win over the Wildcats of the Greater Neuse River Conference to reach Thursday’s third round.
The Pirates will travel to undefeated Cary (the two will share the Triangle-6 4A Conference next year) and the winner will face either Cape Fear out of Cumberland County or Laney from Wilmington. The third-round matches start at 6 p.m. with the East final scheduled for approximately 7:30 p.m.
Last year, Riverside was knocked out on the first day of the 4A dual-team tournament with a 37-35 second-round loss to eventual state runner-up Holly Springs.
“I guess we’re over it,” said Palmer, referring to last year’s loss to Holly Springs. “Hats off to both teams. Cardinal Gibbons made a tremendous jump from the first time we faced them, they had some guys coming from football we hadn’t seen before. We didn’t see West Johnston at all this year, but we heard they were dangerous and we saw that they are.”
Riverside has a long and rich wrestling history, and Palmer – one of the best wrestlers in school history with more than 200 career wins – has helped lead the Pirates back to notoriety.
This year, the Pirates have compiled a 24-3 record while ascending to No. 4 in The News & Observer top 25 area rankings.
This year’s squad has achieved much of its success behind its group of seven seniors – Jaden Davis, DeAndre Foust, Michael Ferrish, Noah Jacobs, Chris Whitaker, Clay Bourguiton and Asante Boler.
Not surprisingly, most of those seniors came up big on Tuesday, particularly against West Johnston.
The Wildcats, a 60-12 first-round winner over Person, led 11-6 over Riverside after three bouts before four straight victories by the Pirates turned the tide, the last three of those wins courtesy of Davis (195 pounds), Foust (220) and Ferrish (285) that produced a 28-11 lead.
Boler and Jacobs later won matches at 132 and 138, respectively, to seal the victory after West Johnston had closed the gap to within 28-26.
“With seven seniors, we have a lot of guys who have been around the program for a while,” Palmer said. “They have kept the tradition of the program alive, on and off the mat. ... This freshman class, they have come in when we’ve had some momentum within the program, so they can already look to the guys that are working hard. That expectation is there.”
Jacobs, who Palmer considers one of the rocks of the Riverside program, believes his team is capable of winning the title.
“Coming into this, we realized we had a good chance in it,” said Jacobs, ranked fourth in the state in 4A at 132 pounds. “We have been performing well recently, so it’s like, ‘Why not us?’”
Jacobs is one of five 4A state-ranked wrestlers on Riverside’s roster, a list that includes top-ranked Davis (195), fourth-ranked Ferrish (285), seventh-ranked Boler (138) and eighth-ranked Whitaker (160).
Davis, who finished fourth in the 4A state tournament last year in his first full year of varsity competition, has built on that success with a 30-2 record this season.
“Last year, finishing fourth, that gave me confidence,” Davis said. “If I can make it to states, I might as well win it. ... But I love (wrestling) as a team sport just as much as an individual sport, ’cause it gives our young dogs something to look forward to when the older guys are wrestling and winning.”
6 p.m. starts
4A: (at Cary) Cary vs. Riverside; Laney vs. Cape Fear
3A: (at Gray’s Creek) Orange vs. Swansboro; West Brunswick vs. Gray’s Creek
2A: (at Carrboro) Carrboro vs. Wheatmore; Mount Pleasant vs. Washington
1A: (at Voyager Academy) Rosewood vs. Uwharrie Charter; Voyager Academy vs. South Stanly