Two win state championships, 12 others place at wrestling state tourney
Published 11:08 pm Saturday, February 19, 2022
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor
HUNTSVILLE – It was a storybook ending for Oak Mountain’s Austin Buird and Pelham’s Bryce Wanagat on Saturday, Feb. 19 inside Huntsville’s Von Braun Center.
Buird, a junior for the Eagles, and Wanagat, a senior for the Panthers, both went into the AHSAA State Wrestling Tournament with high hopes of a championship, and both walked away as first-time champions.
Buird entered the year off a fifth-place finish at state a year ago, but he was determined to climb to the top of the podium this season.
That showed in the 132-pound weight class, as he swept through his matches in impressive fashion.
It started in the quarterfinals with an 11-6 decision win against Isaiah Watts of Auburn, which was followed by a semifinal win against Huntsville’s Max Morrow with a pin.
That led to the championship match against Nick Dempsey from Thompson.
In a thrilling battle between the two, it was Buird who was able to claim a 4-2 decision victory to grab the championship.
Wanagat, who had several years of placing but no championships, had to put together one extra win on his path to a championship.
But in his final year for the Panthers, he was determined to make that happen.
He opened the tournament with a pin of Moody’s Owen Moore to earn a spot in the quarterfinals. That was followed by a major decision victory of 12-4 to gain even more confidence going into the semifinals.
Then, it became a test of nerves and clutch performances.
In two tight battles, he won both his semifinal and championship matchups by one point, taking the semifinal against Springville’s Trent Gilham with a 6-5 decision and the title match against Opelika’s Brady Campbell with a 5-4 decision to claim his first championship.
The state tournament was also impressive for 10 other wrestlers who were able to place at the event, including four wrestlers in second, three in third, two in fourth and one in fifth.
One of the strongest team performances came from the Montevallo Bulldogs, who had three wrestlers place at the state tournament.
Gavin Monk, Charlie Paracca and Cole Dennis all finished inside the top three of their respective weight classes to cap off a remarkable year and a fifth-place finish at state for the Bulldogs.
They finished with a total of 48 points at the tournament thanks in large part to those three wrestlers.
Monk put together a remarkable run in the 126-pound weight class that saw him go all the way to the championship match.
He opened with back-to-back pins against Brody Hayes and Granger Hicks to earn a spot in the title match against Marcus Wright of Westminster Christian Academy.
Two of the state’s best wrestlers this year, it was only fitting the match ended with a tiebreaker. Wright went on wo win the tiebreaker 10-6, setting the stage for a determined Monk going into his senior season next year.
Behind him, Paracca and Dennis both earned hard-fought third-place finishes.
Paracca, a sophomore wrestling in the 132-pound weight class, won his opening match with a pin, but dropped his second one with a major decision loss.
He didn’t panic, however, and bounced back with back-to-back pins in the consolation semis and championship rounds to claim third place in impressive fashion.
Dennis followed his teammate in almost identical fashion.
After winning the first match and losing the second, Dennis responded in the 285-pound heavyweight division with back-to-back pins himself to put together an impressive third-place finish.
Oak Mountain also had three total wrestlers place at the state tournament.
Outside of Buird, Nic Rigdon wrestled for a championship and was able to finish second in the 285-pound weight class, while Camden Tipton claimed fourth in the 113-pound weight class.
Rigdon won his quarterfinal matchup with a pin and his semifinal matchup with a 6-4 decision to earn a spot in the championship.
He ultimately put together another strong showing, but fell in a tight battle with Smiths Station’s Steven Flagg, losing in a 5-2 decision.
Tipton had a back-and-forth tournament, winning his opener and losing his second match both via pin.
In the consolation semifinal, he finished with a major decision win of 14-2, but like Rigdon, he dropped his final match of the tournament in a tight battle with a 5-4 decision.
The Spain Park Jaguars also added two wrestlers in the top three of the state tournament behind Bradley Williams and William Conlon.
Wrestling in the 126-pound weight class, Williams won his opening match with an 11-2 major decision and his second match with a pin to earn a spot in the championship match.
That’s when he ran into one of the state’s top wrestlers in Yanni Vines, who was able to grab a hard-fought 9-3 win against Williams.
Conlon went 1-1 in his first two matches of the state tournament, winning his first with a major decision and losing his second in a 10-4 decision.
After that, however, he responded with a major decision win and a decision win to grab third place for the Jaguars.
Pelham also had one addition wrestler place outside of Wanagat thanks to Noah Schilleci.
Schilleci had one of the more exhausting tournaments, wrestling in six total matches.
He went 1-1 through his first two, and then responded from a loss with back-to-back wins to earn a spot in the consolation semifinal.
After a loss in a tight 7-6 decision, he finished with a 16-5 major decision victory to claim fifth in the 138-pound weight class.
The Chelsea Hornets and Shelby County Wildcats also had two very impressive performances.
The Hornets were led by Kalob Johnstone, who finished fourth in the 182-pound classification.
Johnstone won his first two matches of the state tournament with back-to-back pins to gain some early confidence.
That, however, was followed with a loss to Caleb Roe of Arab in the semifinals to come up one win shy of the championship match.
He went on to respond with a pin in the consolation semifinal to guarantee a finish of fourth, which is what he got after falling in the third-place match.
As for Sykes, he put together one of the best runs of anyone at the tournament with a difficult path.
Up for the challenge, Sykes picked up back-to-back wins in the first two rounds to earn a spot in the semifinals against Moody’s Ryan Summerlin.
Sykes then closed out a very thrilling and tight 1-0 decision victory in his third match to cement a spot in the championship round and guarantee a finish of second.
He put together another strong effort in the championship match, ultimately falling in a 12-5 decision.
The Helena Huskies also had several wrestlers in attendance at the tournament, but couldn’t earn a podium spot.
The Huskies did get two wins from Justin Yunke and one win from Matthew McFall at the event.