Sauntering in from the Greater Neuse River Conference’s get-the-hint department was a volunteer worker who began pulling up tape to deconstruct the main mat at Knightdale High – while members of the Rolesville wrestling team were still celebrating on top of the foam-like surface.
The Rams had good reason to extend the post-event party for a few cherished, photo-filled minutes at Saturday’s GNRC individual wrestling tournament. After all, this was a celebration that had been four years in the making, ever since the new school opened and began a wrestling program in less-than-spectacular fashion.
“I wasn’t here the first year, but I heard it was pretty rough,” said Rolesville coach James Smetana, who served two seasons as an assistant before taking charge of the squad before the 2016-17 campaign. “To see what these guys have accomplished in a short period of time has been very special.”
Even though the Rams won titles in five different weight classifications, they found themselves needing a victory from freshman Jonathan Saravia-Martinez in an otherwise-unimportant consolation match at 285 as the tournament was winding down.
“We have a magic-number formula we were looking at,” Smetana said. “We knew Jonathan had to win his match, and he had to win by pin. If he didn’t, we were going to finish in second place.”
Adding to the daunting task for Saravia-Martinez was the fact that his opponent, Knightdale’s Cam’Ron Rogers, had pinned the Rolesville wrestler earlier in the day.
But when it mattered the most, Saravia-Martinez came up with a pinfall 46 ticks into the second period to earn what will be remembered as the most significant third-place effort in the young history of the Rams’ mat program.
When the referee’s arm hit the foam to signal a pin, Rolesville’s athletes erupted into a euphoric celebration as the Rams had won the championship with 190 points, compared to 187.5 for runner-up Clayton. West Johnston was third in the tight standings with 184 points.
“It’s just great,” said Rolesville junior Anthony Frie, who took the 120-pound class with a decision over West Johnston’s Austin Dailey – a winner over Frie during the league’s dual schedule earlier in the season. “It was our time to be on the podium and take the trophy. I know this is an (individual sport), but to be there with my teammates for (Saravia-Martinez’s match) and the way we were all yelling and celebrating together – that was amazing.”
Joining Frie on the weight-class champions list from Rolesville were teammates Matthew Mims (126), Andrew Bardsley (152), Aaron Le (182) and Bobby James (195).
Mims, a four-year standout for the Rams, was saluted as the GNRC’s Most Outstanding Wrestler for the 2016-17 season. The senior, who boasts a 24-3 record, needed all of 16 seconds to finish off his title match.
During the post-match awards ceremony, Mims considered performing a backflip off the top podium, but thought better of it, given the fact that upcoming regional and state competition still looms.
“Matthew is our team leader,” Smetana said. “He is the guy everyone looks up to. He is the one who gets practice going and is the one staying late after practice.”
Said Frie: “When I first came in (to try out) as a freshman, I didn’t know anybody. (Mims) was the first one who came up to me and started working with me. He has been doing it ever since. For us to both be able to do this today, that is very special.”
Mims is a two-time All-GNRC selection in a rare combination of letterwinning endeavors – cross country and wrestling. He will continue his mat career next season at Belmont-Abbey College near Charlotte.
“Running definitely helps me with my conditioning for wrestling,” Mims said. “I feel like it gives me an advantage over other wrestlers, because most wrestlers don’t like to run. And wrestling has helped me develop strength that I can use when I run.”
Clayton, the defending team champion, boasted four individual winners – Noah Johns (106), Deondra James (138), Jayden Jones (145) and Luke Foster, who used a takedown in the final seconds to rally for a 5-4 triumph in the 170-pound classification.
James, a junior who defeated longtime rival Charles Pumbu in a 15-3 major decision in the finals, was tabbed as the event’s Most Outstanding Lightweight Wrestler (145 pounds and under). He is now 29-7 on the season after topping Pumbu for the second straight match, including a win in last year’s regional competition. Before that victory, James had lost three matches in a row to Pumbu.
“I had more confidence (against Pumbu) because of what happened at the regionals,” James said. “After three (setbacks) in a row, I was motivated. I think that carried over to this year. Overall, this was a good day for (Clayton). We had lost to (West Johnston and Rolesville) in the regular season in dual matches, so we came in here feeling like we had something to prove.”
West Johnston was strong once again, though the Wildcats couldn’t replicate their regular-season crown. West Johnston’s individual champs were Ryan Schroer (132), Kaleb Wright (160) and Thad Wilkerson (2895).
The only classification winners from non-“Big Three” schools were East Wake’s Conan Dhamra (113) and Southeast Raleigh’s Perry Alexander (220).
Alexander pulled off one of the day’s biggest upset as he was seeded third, but came away with a title by pinning Rolesville’s Jordan Laurio at 4:27 in the finals.
Alexander, now 22-5, had lost to both Laurio and Clayton’s Zach Chamblee in the regular season, but returned the favor Saturday by pinning both competitors.
“It feels good,” Alexander said. “I felt I could win. It shows you that anybody can do it.”
Alexander, who was the choice as the Most Outstanding Heavyweight Wrestler (152 pounds and over), had dedicated his season to teammate Daniel Self, a 160-pounder who was lost for the year due to a serious injury suffered at Cary’s Mark Adams Holiday Classic in December.
“When I saw Daniel get hurt, I said to myself that it was terrible,” Alexander said. “I wanted to do something to help him.”
Southeast Raleigh coach Michael Vassil was the final awards recipient as he was picked by his peers as GNRC Coach of the Year.