Chapel Hill: Sports

Orange senior wrestlers finishing in style

Orange High School’s wrestlers circle the mat in their home gym to begin warmups before a Big Eight Conference match in Hillsborough.
Orange High School’s wrestlers circle the mat in their home gym to begin warmups before a Big Eight Conference match in Hillsborough. FABIAN RADULESCU

Sports dynasties get started by people you would want to strive harder for.

With Orange High wrestling, milestones don’t go unnoticed, especially on Senior Night. Heavyweight Byron Stephenson had 99 wins going into his final dual match on Wednesday night against Northern Vance. Ordinarily, that would set the stage for drama you would see in a formulaic Hollywood sports film.

Stephenson’s 100th victory was a formality. Northern Vance was going to forfeit the match, since none of their wrestlers made weight at 285.

However, that didn’t stop Coach Bobby Shriner and his staff from arranging a photographer, who had already been lined up for senior night ceremonies, to shoot a photo of Stephenson with his family with a banner that read “Byron Stephenson: 100 wins” in customary orange and black colors.

Maybe that’s a reason that Shriner is someone wrestlers would work harder for.

Senior night at Orange High wrestling is so filled with tradition, it almost overshadowed the dual match itself. In fact, on Wednesday night, it pretty much did.

To get the basics out of the way: Orange defeated Northern Vance 78-6 behind nine pins and four forfeits to improve to 18-0.

In addition to the score, the disparity between the Orange and Northern Vance teams could be neaty illustrated by the fact that most members of the Panthers program, at least those not on the mat, came dressed in white shirts with neckties. Meanwhile, the Northern Vance coach felt obliged to admonish two of his wrestlers for slouching along the back wall and checking their iPhones between bouts.

The Panthers are three wins away from their 12th consecutive conference championship, with the biggest hurdle at Chapel Hill coming up in two weeks.

Bailey Hawkins (113), Jamison Askes (120), Gonzalo Garcia Contoral (132), Joe Scott (138), Trent Tanner (145), Alex Coates (160), Logan Smith (170), freshman Peyton Wilson (182) and Juan Torres (195) all scored pins for Orange in Thursday’s win. Northern Vance’s Justin Care notched the team’s only victory with a pin at 220.

At 152 pounds, Melik Jimenez’s last regular-season dual match in Hillsborough, a win by forfeit, was his 83rd victory for Orange. Jiminez, whose father serves with the National Guard and spent the week training in Alabama, is headed to Campbell to wrestle under former UNC assistant Cary Kolat.

“It’s better than any other team I’ve been on, honestly,” said Jiminez, who also played linebacker in football. “This is the time I like the most, more than all of them. This is more of a family than any of them.”

Jimenez will have familiar company in Buies Creek. Stephenson also is headed to Campbell, where he may play football or wrestle.

For Shriner, Senior Night is a family affair for the most personal of reasons. On Wednesday, his daughter Michaela was honored for her service as a manager. Previously, his son Nic (a wrestler who eventually played football at Appalachian State), his daughter Madison (another manager) and another son Elijah (who wrestled at 170) all were part of past senior nights with their father presiding over the ceremonies.

But Shiner isn’t done with senior night’s yet. His final child in high school, Mileah (another manager who also plays volleyball) will graduate next year.

“I’m so glad my family can be part of it,” said Shriner. “My wife always said she wanted to marry a coach, and that’s been a real blessing to have a wife who understands. It’s ministry that we do as coaches. Some of these kids have all sorts of issues You’re not just a coach, you’re a dad, you’re a psychiatrist, you’re a friend sometimes.”

Chapel Hill closing strong

Chapel Hill High School’s wrestlers have more home matches left on their schedule, but the season finale Jan. 28 with Orange is fast approaching.

“We’re in the home stretch of the season now. Two weeks from this weekend we’ll be hosting the conference tournament,” Chapel Hill coach Tripp Price said Thursday night, shortly after his Tigers bested Cedar Ridge 57-18 at home.

Chapel Hill, ranked No. 10 in the Triangle by the News & Observer, was troubled Thursday more by the flu bug than its bouts. Two starters were out with flu – Eliot Martin (152 pounds) and Matthew Minnick (145) – cracking open a door for Cedar Ridge .

Cedar Ridge’s Thomas Santos (126) and Jacob Tutor (132) started the match with decisions, and Shane Fowler (138) pinned his man to give the Red Wolves an early 12-0 lead.

Chapel Hill’s Henry Hogan (145) and Cedar Ridge’s Grady Pritchard (152) each won with a pin, keeping the Wolves in front by 12 points. But Chapel Hill proceeded to win the next nine bouts to win going away.

Erik Jens (160) and Camden Bergey (170) both pinned their respective opponents to tie the match, then Bradley Kenyon’s win by forfeit at 182 put the Tigers ahead for good.

Joseph Cannon (195) and R. Hudson Price (285) both pinned their men in less than 30 seconds, and George McBurney (220) won a 5-0 decision before Samuel Gunning (106), Wesley Kelley (113) and Zachary Allen (120) each accepted a forfeit to close out the match.

Chapel Hill hosts Cardnal Gibbons and Millbrook for a tri-meet on Friday and then travels to Gray’s Creek for the five-team Battle at the Bear’s Den on Saturday.

W.E. Warnock, CHN Sports Editor