While the first three months of the high school wrestling season revolves around the team, the last week has been all about the individual.
After regionals, seven locals from seven different weight classes still stand in the race for a state title.
Moses Boyter of East Lincoln, Patrick Holden and Jimmy Scott of North Lincoln, and Jake Clary, Robbie Hallman, Charles Mack George and Andres Gonzalez of West Lincoln will begin their quest for individual gold as the NCHSAA individual state wrestling championships open on Thursday at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Boyter and George enter their 16-man tournaments as one of the favorites to win. Boyter (24-4) won the 145-pound 2A West regional title, and George (53-0), the 2A West region’s most outstanding wrestler and its 195-pound champion, is one of only five in the entire 224-participant field without a loss.
Both are two-time regional title winners –– Boyter won the 132-pound title two years ago as a sophomore while George won at 182 last year as a sophomore –– but neither has a state championship.
Their respective coaches believe this year that could change.
“Whatever he puts his mind to he gets done, that’s a good way of putting it. He basically knows what he has to do and he just goes out there and does it,” East Lincoln coach Derek Ashley said of his lone state qualifier. “He’s not your typical wrestler. Every year he just gets better. … He’s in a real tough weight class –– the toughest in my opinion –– but he’s up for the challenge. I think he’s got a real good chance, not to just place, but to go ahead and take it all.”
“He works hard, he works hard in the weight room, and he’s done it a long time,” said longtime Rebels coach Butch Ross, who added no other wrestler from West Lincoln has made it through a season without a loss. “He’s put in a lot of time in our Top Dawg program as a young person. … His ultimate goal is to win it, and he’s worked towards that.”
While Boyter and George may be grouped with three other regional finalists atop their respective weight classes, the other five Lincoln County participants are shooting for gold as well.
Clary (45-5) and Scott (31-6), both sophomores, were the runner-up in their respective weight classes at the regionals.
Clary lost an 11-3 decision in his 106-pound final while Scott was pinned by top-seed Nick Coe of Asheboro in the 220-pound title bout of the 3A Midwest regional on Monday.
Only a freshman, Hallman (40-16) finished third in the regionals at 113. Gonzalez (34-14), a junior, and Holden (21-12), a junior, finished fourth.
Ashley believes the number of county qualifiers shows just how important –– and good –– wrestling is in Lincoln County.
“I just hope people support wrestling,” he said. “It’s the one sport that personifies toughness.”
Ross, who said the Rebels average sending between four and seven wrestlers to the state tournament each year, said he had four more individuals that finished within one place of qualifying at the regionals.
“All of them work hard,” Ross said.
The 2A championships will get underway at 5 p.m. on Thursday, and the 3A championships will begin at 6:30.