With 37 qualifiers on hand, Midlands wrestling teams expect to have a major say kin what transpires at the Class 4A state tournament this weekend at the Civic Center of Anderson.
Teams scores will be compiled, but the true focus of the event is the crowning of state champions in each of the 14 weight classes.
The area men to watch include:
Alex Morales, Lexington - The Wildcats senior star brings a 55-2 record to state in his quest to claim his second straight state championship. Morales claimed his first gold medal at 160 last season after placing fourth at the same weight in 2009.
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Tim Dudley, Irmo - The Yellow Jackets junior has been a dominant force at 189 pounds, and brings a 42-0 record to state. Dudley, the 171 winner last season, has 30 pins and four technical falls on the books. Dudley could face White Knoll’s Phillip Austin (44-4) in title bout. A win puts Dudley in position to become the school’s first three-time state champion next season.
Will Connell, Lugoff-Elgin - Talk about a man on a mission, Connell is focused on avenging a loss in the 3A championship finals at 171 a year ago that doomed his shot at becoming the fabled wrestling family’s second three-time state winner. Connell (21-0) does have the chance to become the program’s first Class 4A state champion, however.
Zach Connell, Lugoff-Elgin - The junior graciously stepped aside last season to avoid competing directly against older brother Will Connell for varsity time at 171 pounds. Zach has the 189 job to himself, and hopes to follow Will’s lead to the top step of the winner’s stand. The challenge for Zach, is infinitely tougher with Dudley and Austin also in the field. Connell (35-3) will learn his fate early; he draws Austin in the first round.
Theo Shepard, Lugoff-Elgin - The Demons senior has one last chance to strike state gold this week. Shapard is 42-1 and ranked No. 1 at 215 pounds by scmat.com.
Jamal Lackey, White Knoll - The Timberwolves junior is 46-3, ranked No. 1 at 145 and is the only previous state place winner in the field. Lackey, consolation champ at 135 a year ago, is looking to become the third White Knoll state champ and be the first to strike gold since 2007.
The complete Midlands scouting report:
The state runner-up Wildcats will have eight entries in addition to Morales ... Sophomore Russell Taylor (42-14 at 119) is the only other Lexington return qualifier The list also includes freshmen Jackson Myers - Lexington (44-12 at 103), Andrew Szalwinski (17-14 at 112) and Daniel Bannister (49-12 at 160) Cody Bonham (28-19 at 125), Walker Barfield (46-12 at 130), Caleb Brack (40-16 at 140) and Nate Meagher (43-10 at 215) round out the Wildcat state lineup. Barfield, like Morales, enters as a top seed after winning a lower state title last week.
The Timberwolves have eight qualifiers, and two other serious contenders for state titles in Phillip Austin (44-4 at 189) and Asa Gossett (43- at 285). Austin was a silver medallist at 171 pounds last year, and wants a rematch at the higher weight with Irmo’s Tim Dudley Chase Huffstetler (15-6 at 103), David Smith (28-11 at 112), Austin Lee (35-12 at 125), Kevin Epting (31-5 at 135), and Zack Dicus (40-9 at 152) are the other WK qualifiers.
The Yellow Jackets emerged with seven state qualifiers at the Upper State meet last week. Dudley isn’t the only feel-good Irmo story. Louis Biles (35-10 at 103) and senior Aaron Bell (22-8 at 152) earned return trips to state. Biles did not place at 103 a year ago,but Bell managed a fourth-place effort at 145. Both could medal this time around Blane Bryant (34-6 at 140), Bobby Modzel (27-19 at 145), Brandon Corley (37-14 at 160) and Myles Gardner (24-9 at 285) also made the grade.
While the Connell brothers and Theo Shepard are the Demons in the spotlight this week, seniors Tony Murphy (45-6 at 125) and Parker Singelton (42-12 at 145) hope to go out with a bang Murphy was a consolation champion at 125 last season. Singleton is making his state tournament debut.
Five seniors comprise the Sumter state tournament lineup - Korey Paige (28-12 at 135), Matt Devine (46-4 at 140), Hayden Raabe (48-5 at 145), David Baldwin (38-11 at 152) and Koree Pollard (28-10 at 285) The goal is to end Sumter’s 14-year state title draught. The last Gamecock to claim a gold medal was heavyweight Cleveland Pickney in 1997.
The Silver Foxes have two qualifiers in seniors A.J. Finley (15-4 at 130) and Colin Studemeyer (38-7 at 140) Studemeyer enters ranked No. 1 at his weight.