PILOT MOUNTAIN — Mount Airy wrestling coach Cody Atkins couldn’t hide his excitement inside the Granite Bears biggest rival’s gymnasium.
On East Surry’s campus, Atkins and his Mount Airy squad dispatched Bishop McGuinness 48-35 on Thursday to claim the school’s third consecutive Northwest Conference championship. Despite only returning six starters this season, Mount Airy continues to strengthen its claim as the top program in the Northwest, much to the delight of Coach Atkins.
“After the last two, which were both great, this one just means a lot to me,” Atkins said. “After having so many guys graduate last year, I think we had a lot of people counting us out. These kids proved everyone wrong and they really stepped up this year.”
One of those returning wrestlers from last season is Chris Butera, who opened up the night for Mount Airy with a pin in the 138-pound weight class. Butera’s victory started a dominating opening stretch for the Granite Bears that saw Mount Airy open up a 42-0 lead over the Villains.
“Chris going out there and getting a pin against a kid from Bishop who’s really good, that’s exactly how you want to start off a match. It really got us going,” Atkins said.
Johny Dollyhigh (145), Chnadler Snyder (152), Jesus Luna (162), David Luna (170), Cameron Pack (182) and Cody Smith (195) each followed Butera with either pins or forfeit victories to give Mount Airy its 42-0 lead. But the Villains, who came into the match tied with Mount Airy for first place, fought their way back.
Bishop McGuinness won four consecutive matches to make the score 42-24, but another one of Atkins’ returning starters was able to stop the bleeding.
Jacob Hogue, a defending state champion, made quick work of Matt Miller in the 120 weight class with a first-period pin. Hogue’s win gave the Bears a 48-24 lead, clinched the match and assured a third straight conference championship for Mount Airy.
“I knew they had some really good wrestlers in the lighter weight classes,” Atkins said, “but I was always confident once it got to Jake, we were going to clinch it.”
The Granite Bears now turn their attention to Saturday’s Northwest Conference championships at Bishop McGuinness. It is an individual tournament that will also crown a team champion, and Mount Airy is looking for its third consecutive title in this event as well.
East Surry takes second place
The Cardinals came into Thursday night with a small chance at a first-place finish in the Northwest Conference, but when Mount Airy took care of business against Bishop, the Cardinals could only obtain the runner-up position.
Still, second place would not come easy, as East Surry needed wins over Walkertown and Bishop.
However, the youthful Cardinals proved ready for the challenge, earning a pair of victories on Thursday. East Surry routed Walkertown 60-24, and the Cards convincingly knocked off the Villains with a 50-24 result in the final match of the evening. Those two wins gave East Surry sole possession of second place and clinched a berth in the NCHSAA dual-team playoffs next week.
“This team is starting to come together,” East Surry coach Darrin Haywood said. “I think they’ve come further than I thought we would… These kids love to wrestle, and they’ve gotten a lot better because of their desire to get better.”
In the decisive second-place match with Bishop, East Surry got off to a hot start and opened up a 30-0 lead with pins or forfeit victories from Eli Russell (152), Jeremy Cook (160), Stephen Creech (170), Mitchell Edwards (182) and Victor Bacho (190).
After a loss at 220, heavyweight Michael East stepped up and earned a pin for the Cardinals in just 31 seconds. East Surry held a 36-6 lead as the match turned to the lower weight classes, where Bishop’s top wrestlers compete.
However, Coach Haywood received admirable performances from his lighter wrestlers that helped clinch the victory. Trenton Tarn earned a major decision victory at 106 to stretch the advantage to 40-6, while Leo DelaCruz and Triston Russell each avoided pin-defeats to help East Surry maintain its sizable lead at 40-24.
That set the stage for JT Tarn, who only needed to avoid being pinned in order to wrap up the win for East Surry. Tarn was able to do his job, but he also put an exclamation point on the Cardinals’ triumph with a pin of his own midway through the third period.
“That was just really impressive to watch,” Haywood said. “I told them over-and-over, don’t get pinned… We had three matches where we lost two decisions and then win a pin, and those points were just really big and you could tell the team enjoyed watching that.”
The Cardinals will join the Granite Bears down in Kernersville on Saturday for the conference championship.
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16