Trio returns with fourth-place honors
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 23, 2004 1:55 PM
WINSTON-SALEM -- "Don't give up. Don't ever give up."
You could hear Jim Valvano's reminder echoing through the rafters in one of the nation's elite college basketball arenas, but it applied to a different sport Friday and Saturday.
Southern Wayne senior Paul Robinson, left, moves in for the underhook against Morehead heavyweight Daniel Bradford.
Wrestlers from more more than 200 schools battled on the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum floor, the home of Wake Forest, during the two-day event. Each was searching for a gold medal in the 18th annual N.C. High School Athletic Association Wrestling Championships.
Three area grapplers must have recalled Valvano's famous speech as they tumbled in semifinal-round matches, but worked their way through consolations into the medal round. Southern Wayne heavyweight Paul Robinson, Charles B. Aycock 171-pounder John Robertson and Rosewood 103-pounder Ramsey Brown. Each ended up fourth and returned home with a bronze medal.
The threesome, along with Aycock's Blake Brockmeyer and Tim Harrison, etched their names into their respective schools' history book; and county chronicles as well. It was the first time since 1974 that five wrestlers had placed among the top four in the state championships, giving Wayne County a phenomenal 120 state placers since 1952.
Robinson became the first 275-pounder in Saints history to place in back-to-back state championship meets. Robertson is just the third all-state performer in Aycock history and it was the first time that three Golden Falcons had placed among the top six. Brown is the fourth all-state wrestler in Rosewood's 12 years of mat competition.
"I've been working real hard for this," Robinson said. "If I didn't work hard, I didn't deserve it."
Robinson experienced a sense of deja vu Friday. He knocked off a Morehead wrestler in the quarterfinals for the second straight year, this time pinning Daniel Bradford seconds before time expired in the second period.
Weddington's Mike Iannacone dropped Robinson into the consolation bracket Saturday morning.
"I decided you could either sulk or you could plan for the future," Robinson said. "I had to go back to that podium one more time."
Robinson bounced back, pinning North Gaston's Jesse Turner in the third period in the consolation semifinals. He got a shot at Southeast Guilford's Jesse Stewart, who earned an escape point in the final 10 seconds and prevailed 2-1 in sudden-death overtime.
"I have no regrets," said Robinson, who finished his career 119-37.
Robertson's wrestling future was day-to-day during last summer and fall. The Aycock junior tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and his MCL (medial colateral ligament), and spent months in rehabilitation.
The layoff also helped Robertson get into shape, focus on the wrestling season and improve upon his previous trip to the state championships.
Robertson started off slow and barely beat Piedmont's Michael Carter in the opening round Friday. He followed that up with a 7-4 decision against Chris Smith of East Gaston, which put him into the semifinal round along with Brockmeyer.
Johnny Striblin of Southwestern Randolph ended Robertson's gold-medal dreams Saturday. Striblin caught Robertson in a headlock and scored a third-period pin.
"When Turner (Wood) lost out, he said 'just don't get down'. I was pretty disappointed," Robertson said. "He said you can come back and get third. Coach (Mark) Bass talked to me for a while and said the same thing.
"It's in your head, but you know that's in the past and you have to get what you can."
Robertson returned and pulled out a 6-4 win against Fred T. Foard's Chris Rhodes. He dropped his final match to Travis Huddleston, who helped Ragsdale capture the NCHSAA 3-A dual-team title on Feb. 7.
Robertson couldn't have been more happier with his effort.
"I'm disappointed with the loss at the end, but I came back good after my semifinals loss," Robertson said. "I was happy with the way I finished up."
Like Robinson and Robertson, the Eagles' Brown ended Friday with a 2-0 record. The Rosewood junior pinned Cherokee's Tony Sequoyah in the opening round, and stopped McMichael's Sean Younger 9-5 in the quarterfinals.
Brown entered Saturday morning's semifinals with a confident attitude, but a little doubt penetrated his mind when Randleman's Malachi Matson grabbed the initial takedown Brown forged ahead 3-2, only to see Matson get another crucial takedown late in the third period.
As the third period wound down, one referee said that Brown had control on a takedown, which would have given him a one-point lead. However, the other referee said that Brown didn't have complete control and Matson prevailed 4-3.
"My feelings toward the match were pretty messed up, but I just kept on going," Brown said.
Brown escaped his next opponent, George Gianera of North Wilkes, in overtime. That set up a meeting against Cameron Drye, whom Brown expected he might see in the finals if both wrestlers advanced to that round.
Drye, a freshman, seized early control and scored a 12-2 major decision. Once the match ended, Brown shook Drye's hand and they patted each other on the back.
"Coach Ed told me before the match to keep my mind straight. I can either go in there and win it, or be out," Brown said of the Gianera match. "I didn't expect him (Drye) at all, but that was a good match I lost."
Brockmeyer took sixth, but Harrison ended up the biggest surprise.
The sophomore, a first-year starter, entered the tournament with 22 losses and was the No. 2 seed from the East Regional. Harrison, a 152-pounder, started his day with a loss against Carver's Kevin Anthony.
But a solid regular-season schedule that featured good competition in some of the state's toughest individual tournaments proved beneficial for Harrison. He rebounded with a 15-8 decision against Forbush's Tucker Jones and then received a forfeit from Triton's Chris Fincannon.
Harrison eliminated Justin Brown of Northeast Guilford 9-6, and that set up a consolation semfinal match against nemesis Jake Anfinson of West Carteret. Anfinson, a more-experienced wrestler on the state level, handed Harrison a 6-2 loss.
However, the Aycock grappler wasn't done. He battled well against North Gaston's John Clemmer before getting pinned early in the third period.
"Tim coming in here and being able to place proves in my mind that a tough schedule makes a big difference," Aycock coach Kevin Smith said. "He lost 20 matches against high-quality opponents and it might sound clichest, but you learn a lot from losses.
"He's got a lot of heart, wrested hard competition all year long and by doing that, he doesn't freeze up in this environment."
The Golden Falcons recorded their best team finish in school history, ending up 12th with 42.5 points. County rivals Southern Wayne and Eastern Wayne finished 22nd and 48th respectively.
Eleven of Aycock's wrestlers, including eight state qualifiers, will return next season. Luan Tran (130 pounds), Brockmeyer and 215-pounder Lacardra Mitchell -- all state qualifiers this year -- will graduate.
"We know that we're young. We know that we made some mistakes this weekend, but from an experience standpoint there is no better experience than good, hard competition," Smith said. "There's no doubt in my mind that even our losses this weekend are going to make us a much better team next year, and into the future.
"This group's potential is unlimited as long as they're willing to work."
Robinson and fellow Saints Stephen Witt, Mastafa Springston and Reggie Faire wrestled in their final state-championship meet. Finishing their careers for Rosewood were Aaron Lynch and Alan Corbett.
Eastern Wayne senior Tyler Sasser finished his senior season 28-2, going 2-2 in tournament play.
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