It was our first home meet of the year and it came late in the season. I had hoped for a larger crowd, but Madison isn’t known for wrestling; the program really has not accomplished much since winning a bunch of state titles in the 70s–it even went a few years without a wrestling program until Charlie Evans resurrected it almost a decade ago. I coached with Charlie his last year at Madison High School and then I took over the middle school program when Scott Hall came on board to coach the high school team. Last year I returned to help out as an assistant coach with the varsity squad. Jordan Duckett, Nate Hall, Mike Rueda, and Aaron Barker round out the coaching staff. I’m also the father of our 215 pounder.
The team dispatched a small Morenci team quickly (winning 3 of the 4 matches) in the first bout. Next up was one of our rivals–Clinton High School. Clinton had beat us quite soundly in our first meeting of the year and it left a bitter taste in our mouths. I looked at our line up and sighed, it didn’t seem things would go much better this time around. We had four starters out: junior Tyler Staup (152) recently had knee surgery and was done for the year, junior James Counts (112) broke his hand in practice and was done for the year, freshman Austin Castaneda (125) broke his arm in a horrific way on the mat a few weeks earlier and was also done for the year, and finally, arguably our best wrestler, junior Nick Klemm was out sick. It didn’t look good.
The dual started at heavyweight which Madison won with a void. I think I started to believe we might win when freshman Dayton Klama, our 103 pounder who had been on fire beat a kid who had previously beaten him to put us up 12-0. Junior Austin Wilt gave me even more hope when he wrestled a great match against state ranked Michael Sexton despite some questionable officiating. Austin didn’t win, but he didn’t give up any bonus points which left us with a 12-9 lead. Two matches later I was confident we would win this dual meet. Sophomore Jacob Knisel stuck his opponent–someone who had beaten him earlier in the year–to make it 18-9. Then Junior Drake Tovarnack outlasted his opponent–once more someone who had beaten him earlier in the year–to put Madison up 21-9. Junior Isaiah Espinoza (Zeke) glued his opponent to the mat to make it 27-15 with 5 matches to go.
I started doing the math in my head. I was sure Jacob Hamilton, one of our captains, would win by pin so that would give us 6 more points and meant that only one of our underclassman would have to win to give us a victory. Things didn’t work out quite the way I expected.
Sophomore Aaron Pifer (152) was up in his match before he made a mistake and went to his back getting pinned making the score 27-21. I started thinking that this dual meet was going to come down to the last match and I whispered to our 215 pounder that we were going to need him to step up big-time. Freshman Michael Burger (160) fought hard and again a questionable call came into play. Michael was charged with a locked-hands violation which was argued by the coaching staff to the tune of costing us one team point. This energized Clinton and their 160 pounder pinned Michael to make the score 26-27. Freshman Garrett Van Sickle was controlling his opponent when he too went to his back and got stuck giving Clinton a 26-33 lead with two matches to go.
Junior Jacob Hamilton, Hammy, was up next against a tough senior from Clinton. I thought Hammy would be able to pin him, but he narrowly escaped with an 8-6 victory making the score 29-33 with one match to go.
I looked at Sophomore Richard Clees, my son, and said “we need a pin”. What kid doesn’t dream of stepping to the plate with the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth or catching the game winning touchdown in sudden death overtime or hitting a three point shot for the win as the clock expires? My heart was in my throat, I couldn’t imagine what Richard was feeling. He looked confident, but it was hard to tell. Coach Hall smacked him on the backside and yelled let’s do this as he made his way to the scorers table.
Kirk Gibson, one of my favorite baseball players, always said he wasn’t a great player, but he managed to hit a couple of great home runs in World Series play that will always be remembered. Richard isn’t a great wrestler, not yet at least, but in that moment he hit it out of the park and pinned his opponent giving Madison the 33-29 victory!
I was proud and when no one was looking I shed a tear or two of joy as the team jumped around my son. After the celebration I looked at the score again and looked at Nick Klemm who didn’t get to wrestle and wondered when was the last time Madison pulled off something like this with their horse (an almost guaranteed 6 points) on the bench. We hadn’t done it when I coached with Charlie and Ryan Barker was our horse. I’m pretty sure you would have to go back to those special teams of the 70s to find something like this happening.
It was then I realized we hadn’t put a senior on the mat that day (our only senior Marcus McClain sat and let sophomore Dan McKenzie take the void at heavyweight) and I thought maybe this team can be special. Maybe this is the launching pad for a great season next year. Maybe this will be the catalyst that will put Madison back on the wrestling map.
A newspaper article about this dual meet can be found at: http://www.lenconnect.com/article/20130131/SPORTS/130139923