Three Mecklenburg County wrestlers captured N.C. High School Athletic Associations championships Saturday night at the Greensboro Coliseum.
They were the first winners since 2008.
In the 4A, Hough’s Caleb Jordan Thompson won at 182 pounds and finished 51-1 for the season. At 160 pounds, Mallard Creek’s Waddell McNeely captured the championship, finishing his season at 57-4. And in 1A, Queens Grant’s Nic Mitchell -- one of the first two wrestlers from his school to qualify for the championships -- polished off an unbeaten season at 138 pounds. Mitchell was 33-0 this season.
Fayetteville’s Jack Britt won the 4A champonship, two weeks after it won the NCHSAA dual team title. Hough, which was N.C. 4A Western Regional champ, finished fifth. The Huskies had seven wrestlers at the state finals.
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In 3A, Eden Morehead won for the second straight season. Gastonia’s Hunter Huss High won the 2A title. Mitchell won in 1A. For Huss, which got a state title 126 pounds from junior Charles McCombs, it was the school’s first wrestling state championship.
In 2A, West Lincoln’s Mack George won at 195 pounds to finish 52-0.
The story for Mecklenburg County, though, was producing championships. As far as Mallard Creek wrestling coach Benjamin Barry is concerned, wrestling is on its way back in Mecklenburg County.
There was no greater evidence of this than Waddell McNeely, a Mallard Creek senior wrestler, who won the 4A state title in the 160-pound class. McNeely broke down and cried after winning the title.
“Four years of work,” Barry said. “He’s an emotional kid. They sacrifice a lot for four years. He lost some tough matches, but I think that put him in the position to be able to win here. But I want to give him all the credit he trained hard.”
Barry said that there are a lot of factors that make it difficult for Mecklenburg schools to be competitive in wrestling including having to pay a $100 participation fee and not having programs in the middle schools.
“We’re changing,” Barry said. “We’ve got three kids from Mecklenburg County in the finals tonight. Those times have changed. We’ve got a lot of wrestling growing in Mecklenburg County. Who’s going to be next. I don’t think we can blame it on no middle school wrestling anymore.”
McNeely wasted little time in the championship match, jumping out to a quick 8-0 lead and never letting up. He said he is best when being aggressive and not holding anything back.
“I knew after my last loss (during the season), I let him dictate the match,” McNeely said. “I knew I had to come in and make them wrestle my match. They want to slow me down and they want to keep me off my offense. I”m best when I’m attacking.”
McNeely, who finishes the season 57-4 said it was the losses more than the wins that got him back on track.
“It was a season full of tough wins,” McNeely said. “I lost four times and I think that put me back on track. All year in the rankings they didn’t have me No. 1 and that just drove me even more. It’s just so amazing to come from a 14-win freshman to a state champion my senior year. It still hasn’t hit me yet.”
McNeely said he was also driven by the fact that he was the first finalist the Barry has ever had.
“When of his former coaches stopped me in the hallway and said don’t just do it for yourself, but do it for your coach,” McNeely said. “That’s what really drove me to win the state title this year.”
Other state champions from the Charlotte area included Charles McCombs (Hunter Huss) at 126 pounds, Brett Underwood (Piedmont) at 132, and Ethan Kanagy (Weddington) at 220.