Cary's Alex Zuniga wins 4A 170 wrestling title
Though the Triangle didn’t factor into the team races for the N.C. High School Athletic Association individual wrestling championships, it did post seven state champions, four which finished undefeated.
Back-to-back: Chatham Central junior Nick Daggett wasn’t going to let being the heavy favorite to repeat his 1A 113-lb. title go to his head.
“Even though I knew I could be a lot of people pretty easily, I still wrestled like it was a state wrestling match,” Daggett said. “I didn’t take anyone for granted, and I guess it showed with a 44-0 record.”
He pinned Robbinsville’s Arlus Orr in 4:40 for his second straight title.
“There’s always doubt, but you turn that doubt into preparation. And Nick’s very good at that,” coach Joe Little said.
Brothers dominate: Northwood’s Michael Queen ended the year 56-3 with a 3-0 shutout of Rockingham County’s John Harris in the 3A 182-lb. title bout. He had more nerves than most wrestlers, because he had seen his brother, Hunter Queen, fall 5-3 to Havelock’s Tanner Stamper-Smith in the 160-lb. 3A title.
“I typically don’t want to know how he did because it gets in my head,” Michael Queen said. “My brother had to beat the hardest bracket to get here. I’ll tell you right now, my brother is a better wrestler than I am. He’ll do great next year.”
Michael is a senior – a four-time state qualifier, but his title is the first time he’s placed – and Hunter is a junior.
Northwood coach and co-athletic director Jason Amy said the Queen brothers have changed the program’s history. It’s the first state champion in Amy’s seven yers.
“(Michael) is one of the best athletes I have ever coached,” Amy said. “Having that (brothers) dynamic really catapulted the Northwood program. ... Before the Queens came along we didn’t have a lot of people who knew wrestling, and now we’ve built off that and it’s really propelled the whole program.”
Making history: Heritage’s Anthony Brito became his school’s first state champion in any sport with a 3-1 decision over Lake Norman’s Zak Rainess for the 4A 132-pound title. Brito ended the year 51-2.
“I just had to dig down deep,” Brito said. “I knew I had to get that first takedown. The first takedown was probably going to win the match.”
Brito got an escape in the second period to go up 3-0 after his first-period takedown.
“Anthony’s done a lot for our school,” Huskies coach Thomas Durham said. “You couldn’t ask for a better kid to win it.”
Another first: One of the only things missing from Holly Springs’ short but decorated nine-year history was a state champion wrestler. Cam Devers came through in the 4A 138-pound class.
Devers ended the year 53-0 with a 1-0 decision against Kannapolis A.L. Brown’s Nicholas Sexton. Going into the third period of a tied 0-0 match, Devers’ opponent made the curious decision to let him escape and gain a point, forcing Sexton to need a takedown to win.
It backfired when Devers never let Sexton come close to getting a takedown.
“I was like ‘Well, thanks for giving me the point I was going to go get,’” Devers said. “It’s two minutes and we’re on our feet? It’s my zone now. ... I was a little surprised, but I wasn’t going to argue with it.”
Devers ends his career as Holly Springs’ all-time wins leader with a 171-7 record.
“It’s awesome for the program and all that hard work to have a state champion,” Holly Springs coach Nick Nosbisch said. “It’s a great testament to all the hard work he put in over the four years.”
Injured: Holly Springs sophomore Joshua Lehr was ousted from the tournament in the 4A 113 semifinals when he was given a concussion on an illegal slam by Hopewell’s Esco Walker. Lehr was given the win as Walker was disqualified from the match, but the concussion meant he had to drop out of the tournament.
The only “loss” on Lehr’s 37-1 mark was his title forfeit to Laney’s Kevin Saravia.
“It was diagnosed on the mat, and when you have a concussion, you have to follow the recovery program. It was immediately called an illegal slam,” Nosbisch said. “He took it pretty hard and it’s still bothering him, but there’s next year and the year after.”
Cary’s 3 finalists: Cary’s Alex Zuniga (49-0) pinned Southern Alamance’s Matt Ceparano in 4:36 to complete his second straight undefeated season and win the 170-pound 4A title. Zuniga did not make it to last year’s tournament after a concussion suffered in a playoff dual match knocked him out of regionals.
“It made me mad and it made me want to come back and make sure everyone feared me,” Zuniga said. “I wanted to pin everyone I can, and if not, make sure I can get the highest score possible.”
Zuniga had Ceparano’s ankle when the latter made an odd move to try and step over Zuniga, who snatched him into a cradle and pinned for the win.
“I don’t know how to explain what he did, but it benefited me,” Zuniga said. “It was tears of joy, I don’t know how to explain it.”
Heavyweight Rod Perry (46-2) joined Zuniga atop the podium when he avenged a regular-season loss to Jack Britt’s Byran Bryant with a 3-1 victory.
Perry, on football scholarship to South Carolina State, contributed two factors to his win – the first was eating a foot-long Subway sandwich before his match.
“I knew what was wrong and I knew what I had to correct,” Perry said alluding to not eating in the regular-season loss. “Usually, if you have a foot-long sub, you don’t wrestle that good. But I wrestle better when I eat. ... Always eat fresh.”
The second was training with former teammate Jovan “Porkchop” Jarrett, who finished third in the state with Apex this season. Only one could have represented Cary this year had Jarrett not transferred.
“Him going to a different school was the best thing that could’ve happened to us. I wish he could’ve been in the finals with me, that would’ve been a fairy-tale ending,” Perry said. “Even though we’re at a state tournament, we stay close. We warm up together. The relationship we built, it makes us push more. ... We still stay close.”
Kollin Wade, the reigning Most Outstanding Wrestler in 4A, saw heartbreak in the 145-pound title match. Tied 3-all with 33 seconds to go, Wade (34-1) was whistled for his third caution, which gave South Mecklenburg’s Chris Moungle the 4-3 lead he needed to win.
“This tournament is such a cruel tournament. It can make you the happiest man in the world and rock your world all in the same event,” Cary coach Taylor Cummings said. “I’m really bummed for Kollin. I wished he would’ve gone out on top.”
Wrestling up: Spending most of the year wrestling heavyweights came in handy for undefeated Northern Durham senior Demazio Samuel (40-0), who won the 4A 220-lb. title with a 6-4 decision against Southeast Guilford’s Evan Surgeon.
“My coaches were worried that I wasn’t getting enough competition, that I was going to be unprepared for states, so they bumped me up to heavyweight,” Samuel said. “I go with some heavyweights so they could push me. And I have to say, it paid off. If I didn’t bump up to heavyweight I would’ve been unprepared for these matches.”
Samuel was third in the state last year at 195 pounds.
“I had to be mentally tough,” Samuel said. “I had a little more endurance than him.”
On bottom position, Samuel wore down Surgeon before getting the winning reversal. Repeatedly, he tried to get up and take his opponent out of bounds, making the two-minute period extend into more of a five-minute ordeal.
“Everybody looks at his body and his physique because he really is a pretty good specimen, but what all these people don’t know is what he’s got right here,” Northern coach Matt Brown said, pointing to his heart.
“If I say, ‘Maz, I need you to meet me at 5:30 tomorrow morning at the school, we’re going to do sprints, he’s going to be at school at 5:30. He does everything we ask him to do. He’s just a great teammate. He does everything a coach wants, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s kinda built.”
Orange gets two runners-up: Orange senior Joe Scott fell 8-4 to Asheboro’s undefeated Saywer Davidson, ending the season 44-5. Teammate Payton Wilson (40-7) fell in the 220-lb. title match to North Gaston’s Lathan Bumgarner.
Upset run: Chapel Hill’s Camden Bergey (40-11) entered the tournament with 10 losses but took down back-to-back wrestlers with a combined 92-6 record. He later fell to Morehead’s Ben Bullins (49-1) by a 7-3 decision in the 3A 170 title.
Team titles: Rosewood took the 1A title, the only dual-team champ to make it a sweep. Kill Devil Hills’ First Flight won the 2A title, Candler’s Enka Hight the 3A and Southeast Guilford the 4A. The highest-placing area teams were Cary taking fifth and Holly Springs ninth in 4A.
Runner-up: Voyager Academy’s Kyle Coward (1A 132), Princeton’s Michael Daughtry (1A 145), South Granville’s Nathean Castillo (2A 126), Orange’s Joe Scott (3A 152), Northwood’s Hunter Queen (3A 160), Chapel Hill’s Camden Bergey (3A 170), Orange’s Payton Wilson (3A 220), Holly Springs’ Josh Lehr (4A 113), Cary’s Kollin Wade (4A, 145), Clayton’s Michael Lines (4A, 182).
Third-place: Voyager Academy’s Ronald Whitt (1A 126), Southern Vance’s Damonte Blash (2A 132), Union Pines’ Antonio Menozi (3A 120), Union Pines’ Dylan Barber (3A 138), Wake Forest’s Nic Mutio (4A 138), Apex’s Jovan Jarrett (4A 285).
Fourth-place: Wake Forest’s Sander Cyper (4A 160), Fuquay-Varina’s Josh Arrington (4A 170), Riverside’s Jaden Davis (4A 195).
Taking fifth: Carrboro’s Dante Veltri (2A 138), Franklinton’s Ruben Santiago (2A 145), South Granville’s Bryce Talley (2A 160), Western Harnett’s Jordan Guimont (3A 152), Corinth Holders’ Frankie Miller (3A 285).
Taking sixth: Carrboro’s David Veltri (2A 126), Franklinton’s Jacob Coats (2A 152), Carrboro’s Maxim Gaut (2A 170), Western Harnett’s Anthony Thompson (3A 113), Union Pines’ Daniel Hull (3A 126), Northwood’s John Dunning (3A 195), Leesville Road’s Dan Mills (4A 126), Panther Creek’s Chad Laska (4A 182).