Hickory Ridge wrestling coach Daniel Yow teaches each athlete to plan offensively while not allowing his opponent to dictate the flow of a match. In the final seconds of his 3A state championship match, senior Ethan Jones applied both tactics to his final moves.
Locked in a 1-1 tie in the final period of his match with Morehead’s Ben Bullins, Jones kept his leverage after a 15-20 second scramble. With less than 10 seconds remaining, Jones registered a takedown to beat Bullins 3-1 and capture the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A title in the 160-pound division.
Jones’ victory secured an individual state championship for Hickory Ridge for the third straight year. Troy Gregor, now competing for N.C. State, won titles in 2013 and 2014. Gregor’s brother Tyler, a Hickory Ridge 106-pound freshman, finished third at this year’s state championships.
“It was very, very exciting,” said Yow. “We had some of our kids come up just to watch the finals. He was fired up. There were a bunch of hugs and a bunch of tears. We all shed some tears crying. It was an emotional moment for him.”
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Now Hickory Ridge’s first-year head coach after serving two seasons as an assistant, Yow has coached Jones in three sports.
He was Jones’ linebackers coach for the Ragin’ Bulls football team the past two seasons and guided him through a 2014 season in which he led the South Piedmont 3A Conference in sacks. Additionally, Yow has coached Jones as a triple jumper and sprinter on Hickory Ridge’s track and field team for three years.
Yow uses words like physically strong, technical, confident and consistent to describe Jones’ wrestling attributes. But at the beginning of the wrestling season, not even Yow thought Jones had a state championship in him.
Jones, the son of Sandy and Adrienne Jones, had a 73-38 record over his freshman and sophomore seasons and did not make it out of regionals in either year. As a junior, Jones’ record improved to 52-10 and he qualified for the state tournament by placing third in the region.
At states, Jones lost his opening match and won two consolation matches before being knocked out. He did not reach the podium as one of his weight class’ top five placers.
“My head just wasn’t in it last year,” said Jones. “I had the talent but I didn’t wrestle to the best of my ability. Mentally, I just wasn’t ready.”
In the off-season, Jones represented Charlotte’s Darkhorse Wrestling club at the Disney Duals in Orlando. He says he won three of his five matches, and competing against some of the country’s top athletes gave him a new-found confidence.
To open the high school season, Jones had a new practice partner. Davante Andujar, a state champion for Robinson High in 2011, was hired as the Ragin’ Bulls’ assistant coach.
Jones’ first loss of the season came by pin on Dec. 27 to Mallard Creek’s Waddell McNeely, who would go on to win the 4A state championship at 160 pounds.
Hickory Ridge’s next event was the prestigious Holy Angels Tournament at Bojangles’ Coliseum. Jones lost two more matches and placed fifth.
“Every match after Holy Angels, it just didn’t seem like he (had to try),” said Yow. “Everything came naturally to him.”
Jones swept to the conference and regional championships, both firsts for him. Jones’ confidence entering the state championship was boundless.
In the semifinals, Jones grabbed a 5-2 decision from Tyler Spurling, the East Gaston wrestler who beat Jones in last year’s state tournament. Jones’ opponent in the finals, Ben Bullins, was the 3A state champ in 2014 at 145 pounds. He finished the season with a 51-3 record.
“He was able to wrestle well and he knew no one could touch him,” said Yow. “It’s a good sign when a kid is smiling 10 minutes before the match. But when he wrestles he turns the switch and he is ready to go.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at email@example.com.