It’s been a season filled with adversity for the Cleveland wrestling team, so it was quite fitting that there were some last-second obstacles to contend with as the Rams hosted three teams for the first and second rounds of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A dual-team playoffs.
Only after gymnasium repairs went on late into the afternoon hours which, at one point, jeopardized the possibility of the Rams even being able to set up the mats, Cleveland managed a first in school history as the Rams defeated C.B. Aycock 45-36 in the first round for the program’s first-ever NCHSAA dual-team playoff victory.
Even a loss to Havelock’s Rams in the second round by a deceiving 72-10 count could not dampen the spirits of Cleveland coach Kenny Watkins nor take away the sense of pride he felt for his squad’s accomplishment.
After seeing more than 10 kids either quit the team for a myriad of reasons or suffer significant injuries, a team that Watkins predicted would be the best team he ever coached before the season proved to be quite special for reasons other than performances and results.
“Every type of adversity we could face, we’ve faced,” said Watkins. “I was right when I said this would be one of the most special teams – it is. It may not be the most competitive team we’ve had but these guys that are here, that stuck with it have fought their butts off; I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
In the first round against C.B. Aycock (21-12), Cleveland received pivotal second period pins from Quinton Ross in the 182-pound division and Trevor Bryant at 220 with both bouts being even until each wrestler saw his opportunity and took it taking their respective opponents to the mat.
Ross pinned Aycock’s Justin Washington at 3:42 and Bryant did the same to Jonathan Girad at 3:24.
“They were huge pins,” Watkins said. “We bumped Trevor up from 195 to 220 to try to get points because we knew it was going to be close. We knew if Quinton could get on top, that he could turn him and fortunately he did. They’re my captains and they stepped up in big ways.”
Richie Alverado’s first period pin of the Golden Falcons’ Austin Doyle gave Cleveland the 36-24 lead before teammate Chris McIver closed out the match with a 6-3 decision at 120 to give the Rams their historic win.
In the second round, Cleveland (19-9) squared off against the Coastal Conference champions Havelock, a team that Watkins thinks is strong enough that it could represent the east in the state finals.
Unfortunately for Watkins and his host Rams, his assessment was spot-on as the visiting Rams stormed out to a 36-10 lead thanks in part to pins secured by Zacheria Drysdale (148), Jashaun Boone (160), Tanner Stamper-Smith (182), Kendall Frazier (195) and Destin Floyd (285).
After Havelock’s Nathan Wysong pinned Alverado, Cleveland had no chance at making a comeback and forfeited the final five matches as a sign of sportsmanship to help keep as many of the Havelock grapplers fresh as possible for their continuing playoff march.
Jakob Cox earned six points for his squad as he erased an early 7-2 deficit against Havelock’s Emanuel Villegas, taking his first lead in the match in the third period at 10-9 before pinning Villegas with one minute left.
Cleveland’s Jonathan Kisner played a game of catch-and-release with Havelock’s Nate Willet as Kisner earned an 18-8 decision after taking down Willet on nine different occasions to rack up the points while allowing Willet escape points in all but one of those instances.
Overall, Watkins definitely saw the silver lining in his team’s performance.
“It shows us that we’re going in the right direction but we still have work to do,” Watkins said. "For these guys to take second in the conference winning a huge match at Corinth Holders last week and to come in here and win the first ever state dual match in school history, I couldn't be more proud.”