03/30/08 — News-Argus Co-Wrestlers of the Year: Olivia Neal, Chris Tesar

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News-Argus Co-Wrestlers of the Year: Olivia Neal, Chris Tesar

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 30, 2008 2:04 AM

Rosewood's Olivia Neal and Eastern Wayne's Chris Tesar, in their own way, posted unprecedented -- and phenomenal -- senior seasons on the wrestling mat.

Neal broke the gender barrier.

Tesar concluded his stellar varsity career as the county and school record holder in numerous categories.

Each had their own motivation.

Neal recalled keeping stats at last year's state tournament when a coach walked over to her and said "working tables is as close as you will come to making it up here."

"I couldn't believe he said that," quipped Neal.

Challenged by the coach's arrogant remark, Neal returned to the weight room with a new demeanor and determination to prove her peers wrong.

And she did.

Neal claimed her first-ever conference crown, surpassed the 100-win plateau, placed third in the eastern regionals and became the first-ever female qualifier for the N.C. High School Athletic Association wrestling championships.

"I never imagined this as a freshman," said Neal, a two-sport cheerleader who also runs track. "I was just worried about getting through my freshman year. The whole time I wrestled, I didn't want to be known as 'that girl,' but a wrestler."

Tesar wanted 200 wins, which proved to be a county and school record.

He entered the two-day NCHSAA Championships as a four-time eastern regional champion, but returned home without a state title. Tesar lost his opening-round match and failed to place for the first time in his career.

"States was disappointing," said Tesar, who attempted to become the Warriors' first state champion since 1987. "I wasn't very focused. I had my 200 wins and said 'that's fine ... we're here.'

"Going into states, everyone was expecting everything out of me and the pressure just collapsed (on me). I had the skill level and could have beaten those kids, but I wasn't motivated."

For their efforts, Neal and Tesar are the 2007-08 News-Argus Co-Wrestlers of the Year.

Molly Kilpatrick became the first-ever female wrestler in Rosewood history and served as a team captain her senior year. Edmundson decided to start a girls' wrestling team affiliated through the United States Girls Wrestling Associationi (USGWA). The group competed in several meets.

The next season, Neal watched practice one afternoon and wanted to participate. Edmundson wasn't sure of Neal's intentions.

"She was motivated by the desire to stay fit, to be able to defend herself and she thought it was fun," said Edmundson.

Neal served as an understudy to former state qualifier Ramsey Brown and began making a name for herself as a sophomore. She vastly improved during her junior year, but missed making the state tournament by a mere five seconds.

"That was hard," said Neal.

Edmundson and Neal talked about goals the first day of practice in November. Neal wanted a conference title, reach 100 wins, place at regionals and win a couple of matches at states.

"I thought she had set some pretty high goals," said Edmundson.

Neal reached them all and finished with a career record of 107-23.

"Olivia is indeed a special person who does not yet realize the impact she has made on athletics and gender equity," said Edmundson. "Maybe one day she will be able to look back and realize how big all of this was."

Tesar has no regrets.

The Warriors were a fixture in the dual-team playoffs during his career and emerged the Eastern Carolina Conference tournament champions in 2007. Tesar (201-11 career record) never lost an ECC regular-season or tournament match after his freshman year.