Hough High’s Caleb Kreitter and Hopewell’s Esco Walker often butted heads last season – and came close to winning state wrestling titles.
Now that they’re competing in separate weight classes, Kreitter and Walker are among the favorites to win titles at this weekend’s N.C. High School Athletic Association state championship meet.
Kreitter and Walker are juniors and among three wrestlers from Mecklenburg County schools who bring undefeated records into the NCHSAA finals, which begin Thursday at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“Those two kids are probably the two best, technically-sound, college-ready wrestlers in the area,” Hopewell coach Derek Bryant said.
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“They beat up each other pretty good last year … but Caleb’s put on a little muscle and a little size to him over the summer. I’m glad to see that both of those guys have a shot at winning a state title this year.”
Walker enters the 113-pound weight class with a 40-0 record. He is one of two undefeated wrestlers in the division (the other is Holly Springs’ Josh Lehr, 34-0). Kreitter is the No. 1 seed in the 120-pound class at 50-0.
“They’ve got a bunch of wins between them,” Hough coach Tripp Rogers said.
Another unbeaten wrestler from Mecklenburg County is Providence sophomore Robbie Snyder, who is 20-0 and the top seed at 106 pounds.
Last season, Kreitter and Walker wrestled primarily at 113 pounds, with Kreitter taking a 3-2 advantage over Walker in head-to-head matches.
But their last match was the biggest – Walker won a 3-2 decision over Kreitter in the state semifinals before losing to Fayetteville Britt’s Bradley Wanovich in the final. Kreitter bounced back in the consolation bracket to finish third.
The outcome of those matches sent Kreitter and Walker into their off-season workouts with one goal in mind: improve on everything.
“I’ve worked on my mindset,” Walker said. “I’m more aggressive now. The competition is harder now, and it’s pushed me to reach the next level.”
Said Kreitter: “I’m more focused now, and more trusting now in the coaching. I don’t get as nervous before matches as I did last year. I don’t worry about what the other kid’s gonna do. I do what I know how to do and dominate.”
Kreitter, Walker and Snyder, competing in his first state tournament, are four match wins from their first state championships.
“I’ve been working hard for this,” Walker said. “I’ve been training harder, and I want it more than any other kid in my weight class. I’m staying focused on what’s coming up, taking it one match at a time.”
Snyder opens the tournament Thursday night against Carson Smith of Southeast Guilford (45-9). Walker will face Austin Dailey of West Johnston (27-12), and Kreitter will take on Wilmington Ashley’s Dalton White (30-3).
“I don’t want to be overzealous or even nervous,” Kreitter said. “You can make simple mistakes and cost yourself the match. This is the state tournament – it’s the best of the best.”