Lexington had made it to the Class 4A state wrestling final three times since 2006, including back-to-back title bouts with Hillcrest over the last two seasons, but the Wildcats are still seeking that elusive first championship.
A title loss couldn’t be any bitterer than the 2012 outcome. In a rematch of the 2011 finale, Lexington and Hillcrest battled to a 26-26 draw, but Hillcrest was award the win and the championship based on the sixth tie-breaker – most technical falls in the match.
Coach Derek Strobel and the veteran Wildcats will give it another go this season. Lexington, which is ranked No. 1 by scmat.com, has seven returning state qualifiers in the fold, including defending state champions Jackson Myers and Nate Meagher. Myers prevailed at 106 pounds last season and a fourth-place effort at the lightest weight as a freshman in 2011. Meagher was ruled a 220 pounds last season and qualified but did not place in 2011.
Andrew Szalwinski, Russell Taylor and Walker Barfield are also two-time qualifiers back for another go. And all three placed last year. Blake Risinger and Daniel Bannister, who both qualified for state in 2011, are also back.
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Lugoff-Elgin (8th), White Knoll (12th) and Dutch Fork (17th) are the other ranked Midlands teams. L-E’s Allen Jenerette, who finished three at 220 a year ago, is the other returning place winner in the Midlands.
Chapin, which has fallen in the finals for two straight years, is ranked No. 4 in Class 3A, followed by up-and-coming Dreher at No. 8 and Gilbert (17th).
Chapin is rebuilding around senior vets Chandler Owens and Chad Swindell. Dreher’s top returning men are seniors Chris Bloch and Derrick Frazier and junior William Bloch. Chris Bloch, a three-time state qualifier, was the consolation champ at 145 a year ago. Gilbert, which is making the jump from 2A for the first time, is led by returning state qualifiers Nathan Brazel, Chris Dyer and Madison Leitner. Brazel and Dyer were third-place finishers last season at 106 and 170, respectively. Leitner did not place last season after winning the 103 title in 2011.
Class 2A figures to be much stronger with the move up by 1A powerhouses Bamberg-Ehrhardt, Abbeville and Chesterfield. Columbia is the top Midlands team at No. 9 with Pelion ranked 19th.
Cardinal Newman and Hammond had ruled SCISA wrestling since the sport was sanctioned eight years ago. Hammond won the first four titles, and Cardinal Newman is currently riding a streak of four straight championships.
But things could change this winter. Hammond nearly pulled off a shocking upset last season, but the Cardinals survived to keep their streak in place.
The Skyhawks appear poised to regain the throne with eight state qualifiers returning, including champions Ray Castles, Gantt Castles and Matthew Kay. Gantt Castles, who is still only a sophomore, is going for his fourth championship this season. Kay, a senior, is a five-time qualifiers with two gold and three silver medals on his resume. Steven Mitchell and Calhoun MacDougal are two-time state placers.
Cardinal Newman took a bigger graduation hit, but won’t give up the title without a fight. The veteran foundations includes seniors Nathan Hayes and Matt Wilson, sophomore Bernie Herbkersman and freshman Nicky Winterstein. Wilson is shooting for his three straight gold medal this season and Hayes has two individual titles and one runner-up finish on the books. Herbkersman has claimed silver medals at the past two state tournaments and is looking for a flashier prize this time around.