Fate has not been kind to the Lexington wrestling team.
Since 2006, the Wildcats have advanced to the Class 4A state championship match three times only to come up short, including back-to-back losses the past two seasons.
Last year’s disappointment was the cruelest of all.
Lexington and Hillcrest were deadlocked at 26-all at the end of the 14 individual bouts. There is no overtime in team wrestling. The outcome came down to a tie-breaking procedure. Ultimately, Hillcrest was declared the champion based on having more technical falls during the match — the sixth criteria.
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“When you lose like that, it’s hard not to think that maybe you were just not meant to win,” Wildcats coach Derek Strobel said.
The quest for the school’s first state championship continues this year.
“You always are looking for ways to improve, but we’re not fundamentally changing the way we approach things,” Strobel said. “If there is anything different this year, it’s that we have a lot of guys who have been around for three years now and been to two state finals, and they feel like they have something to prove. The goal is pretty clear in the room.”
Jackson Myers and Nate Meagher, in particular, are determined to add one final prize to make their resumes complete. Both won individual state titles last year while helping the Wildcats to finish in first place at the season-ending traditional state tournament.
The High School League does not recognize team winners at the state tournament, only individual champions. If Lexington wants to bag the big prize, it will have to find a way to break through in the dual meet playoffs.
“We took a lot of pride in the way we performed at the state tournament after we lost to Hillcrest, but there isn’t a guy on the team who doesn’t know what the goal is this season,” said Jackson, a junior who went 45-1 on the way to the 103-pound championship last season. “Winning individually last season was something I’ve dreamed about doing since I began wrestling, but I’d have traded that in a minute for a team championship.”
Meagher feels the same way. He went 45-2 as a junior last season and won his first gold medal at 220 pounds, but he was far from satisfied about the way the season ended.
“There was a feeling of accomplishment, but losing the way we did in the finals still hurts,” he said. “This year, I see a team that is dedicated to the goal, especially for the seniors because this is our last chance.”
Jackson and Meagher headline a veteran lineup that also includes returning state qualifiers senior Andrew Szalwinski (42-5, 2nd at 113), junior Blake Risinger (32-14) and senior Walker Barfield (42-9, 3rd at 138).