The Ardrey Kell wrestling team had a lot to be proud of going into its regular season finale against South Mecklenburg Jan. 31.The Knights had wrestled a solid season, going at 10-6 overall and 5-1 in the SoMeck 8 conference, putting them in a tie for second place in the league at the time.But what head coach Tim Higgins and the Knights made happen in less than a 24-hour span between Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 gave the team an improbable conference championship. Friday, Jan. 31 Ardrey Kell wrestled South Mecklenburg, and Providence High took on Charlotte Catholic, starting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 31, with both matches taking place in the Catholic gym. The matches had been postponed from the day prior because of winter weather. Ardrey Kell and South Mecklenburg were wrestling for second place in the SoMeck 8 conference standings and a guaranteed playoff spot.About 7:30 p.m., South Meck took a commanding, 33-6 lead over Ardrey Kell going into the 152-pound weight class at the midway point of the match. Higgins said his team needed “a miracle” to come back. Thirty minutes later, Ardrey Kell earned first-round pins to get back into the match. Knights senior Patrick Dickey (152), junior Nic Chance (160), senior Tyler Bizjack (170) and junior Dan Dubinsky (182) got the pins – all while wrestling up one weight class. After Ardrey Kell’s 195-pound senior Kyle Paulson lost a tight match, 220-pound senior Justin Dominique won by forfeit to tie the score at 36 going into the final weight class.Ardrey Kell senior Chris Mairson, despite giving up about 40 pounds, won the final match in the 285-pound weight class at about 8:30 p.m. to help his team to an improbable 39-36 win, sole possession of second place in the conference (11-6, 6-1) and a guaranteed playoff spot. Saturday, Feb. 1 Higgins, still excited from the win, finally went to sleep about 1:30 a.m.He was awake again at 5 a.m. Higgins, a stickler for being on time, woke up and drove to school to get ready to go to the SoMeck 8 conference tournament at Providence. The rest of the Ardrey Kell team met him at the school at 6 a.m. for the tournament, which started at 9 a.m. at Providence High.By 2 p.m., all 12 Ardrey Kell wrestlers had made either the consolation or championship finals.Ardrey Kell got off to a solid start in the finals, with sophomore Luis Sanchez finishing in third-place at 106 pounds. The Knights forfeited the next two classes (113 and 120) because they were two wrestlers short.The Knights gained momentum again later in the afternoon, when senior Avery Harris (126) finished as runner-up and sophomore Ryan Dominique (132) and seniors Tony Pagan (138) and Dickey (145) all took third-place.Ardrey Kell’s Chance (152) and Bizjack (160) scored back-to-back conference championship wins while and Dubinsky (182) and Paulson (195) took third and while sophomore Jon Traverso (170) finished fourth.Mairson (220) won another conference championship for the Knights, and heavyweight Justin Dominique finished as conference runner-up. Due to a scoring error, Ardrey Kell left the meet at about 4:30 p.m., believing it finished second to Charlotte Catholic. Higgins didn’t learn until two hours later that his team had won the conference tournament championship. He called his wrestlers around that night to tell them the news.The reactionArdrey Kell’s improbable two-day run to the conference tournament title left Higgins with a big smile.“I’m really still at a loss for words to tell you how proud of the team I was,” Higgins said. “I’ve never had a better group of senior leaders. Individually, we have no stars. But together we are champions, and we proved it.”Dickey said it’s something the team, especially the senior class, will never forget.“To come back from (down) 33-6 Friday night and win, we were on an unbelievable high going into Saturday,” Dickey said. “Then Saturday, we got down early again, but we still felt like we could win it. To finish with a conference tournament championship, all in that 24-hour span, is something I will never forget the rest of my life. The way we finished, I wouldn’t have wanted it to happen any other way.”Dickey, who has severed ligaments in both shoulders that will probably require surgery after the season, fought valiantly and “is one of the best leaders I’ve had on any team,” Higgins said. Bizjack, who has had lingering ankle and knee injuries from football that allow him to practice only about half the time, also fought through considerable pain.The victory represented only the second time in the school’s eight-year history that Ardrey Kell has won a conference tournament title, with the last coming in 2012.While the dual-team portion of Ardrey Kell’s season ended in a first-round loss Feb. 4 at Lake Norman, they now shift their focus to regionals, where the 12 wrestlers will compete Feb. 14-15 at Hough High.No Ardrey Kell wrestler is currently ranked in the top 10 in the state, according to retrorankings.com, but Bizjack, Chance, Justin Dominique, Dubinsky, Mairson and Harris have the best shot at qualifying for the individual state championships Feb. 20-22 at Greensboro Coliseum. Nothing this team accomplishes will surprise Higgins.“Every person on this team has stepped up and done something great,” Higgins said. “We don’t have any stars. But I think that makes everything we’ve accomplished all the more special.”
Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014
Ardrey Kell wrestling’s impressive two-day run leads to conference tournament championship
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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