LaGrange wrestlers ready for state finals
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – It’s the end of the road.
More than three months ago, the LaGrange High wrestlers got together for their first practice, and for eight of those men, all of the hard work they’ve put in has paid major dividends.
The Class AAAA state finals will be held today through Saturday in Macon, and eight LaGrange wrestlers are set to participate.
There will be 16 wrestlers in each of the 14 weight classes, and the top six finishers will place and return home with a medal.
LaGrange coach Scooter Weathers said there have been no short cuts for any of the state participants.
“It’s tough. It’s a grind throughout the year,” Weathers said. “The last month is a grind. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of discipline. You can’t do certain things your buddies are doing. It takes a lot of discipline on these guys’ part, and it shows. They put a lot of work into it, and a lot of effort. And it pays off.”
To reach this point, the wrestlers first had to finish fourth or higher in the area tournament, and then they had to place eighth or better at the state sectional last weekend.
Now, only the state’s elite wrestlers remain.
“You’ve got the cream of the crop left,” Weathers said. “It’s kind of like college basketball with the sweet 16. You’ve got 16 guys left in your weight class.”
LaGrange is coming off an impressive performance in the state sectional at Woodward Academy.
Out of its 11 wrestlers at the sectional, eight of them finished eighth or higher, and Dexter Fitzpatrick placed ninth and is an alternate.
LaGrange had one wrestler in the state finals last season, and two the year before that.
“We’ve all been working hard for it,” senior Jordan Ragan said. “Last year, our sectional was really tough, and it was hard to get people out. This year, it’s still tough, but I think we wrestled better.”
Among that group of state participants is senior Chase Sams, who finished second out of 16 wrestlers at 152 pounds.
“Honestly, I thought I’d get fourth at best,” Sams said. “Finishing second, that boosts my confidence a lot.”
Sams said as the weekend went along, his confidence began to grow.
“I wasn’t really nervous through the first few matches,” Sams said. “I just went in, and I felt like I had a good chance. The semifinal match, I was really nervous, because I knew if I made it past that, that I would do pretty well. Once I made it past that one, I felt pretty good about it.”
Sams, who has a 30-8 record, ended up making it to the finals where he lost to Daniel Reid of Luella 10-5.
Another senior, De’Erious Sands, placed fourth at 120 pounds in the state sectional.
It has been an outstanding season for Sands, who is 40-4, and he has won multiple championships, including the Area 5-AAAA tournament.
Sands made it to the third-place match where he lost to Benjamin Preal of Luella.
Another senior who has had a big season, John Todd Bohn, finished fifth at 126 pounds.
Bohn (35-5), who like Sands won an area championship, beat Matt Tewskbury of Eastside in the fifth-place match at the sectional.
Like all of his teammates, Bohn is preparing for his first appearance in the state finals.
“I’m excited, but nervous at the same time,” Bohn said. “I’m just glad I got here. I got to the last tournament I could get to. That was really my goal. Now I’m going to go in and work as hard as I can, and see how far I get.”
Senior Quindon Dunson placed seventh at 132 pounds to earn his first trip to the state finals.
Dunson (35-13) beat William McNeely of Luella in the seventh-place match.
“I’m very excited,” Dunson said. “Making it to state was very important to me.”
Four other LaGrange wrestlers finished eighth to keep their seasons alive.
At 106 pounds, it was Lane Oliver (34-13) placing eighth.
John Arthur (29-17) was eighth at 160 pounds, and senior Richard Gaskin (27-13) was eighth at 285 pounds.
Jordan Ragan (37-10) was eighth at 195 pounds, allowing him to finally make it to state.
“It was definitely probably my biggest goal of the year, is to make it here, because it hasn’t happened before,” Ragan said.
Ragan said he isn’t thinking beyond his first match at the finals.
“My goal is really just to win my first one,” Ragan said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been there. I’m an eight seed, so I’ll be wrestling a number one, so it’ll be tough. Maybe I’ll surprise some people.”