When Caleb Kreitter stepped on the mat to wrestle for the 4A state individual championship at the Greensboro Coliseum last February, everything seemed to going right as he had a perfect 54-0 record for the season.
The 120-pound, Hough junior had to be confident going into the finals. He was wrestling McDowell’s Tony McGee, whom he had just beaten 13-2 in the N.C. 4A West Regional the previous week.
But, in matter of minutes, everything Kreitter had worked for last high school season seemed to be gone, when he lost a 9-8 decision and finished as 4A state runner-up.
"54-1 is great, but it’s not the 55-0 I was looking for, so it was a really tough moment to lose that match," Kreitter said, of his state championship loss. "…I had to get out of the spotlight in the arena (Greensboro Coliseum), because I think a lot of people were shocked, including me. I just went and sat in the locker room and tried to let everything go. I really didn’t want to talk to anyone. My coaches, Tripp and Zack (Rogers), came and talked to me. I heard what they were saying, but it still a very tough time."
"It was a heartbreaking moment for Caleb, and I just went in there (locker room) and gave him a hug and tried to help him through it," said Hough wrestling coach, Tripp Rogers, a former state champion wrestler at East Gaston himself in 2001. "…Coming from someone who knows what it’s like to lose in the state finals (Rogers also lost in finals in 2002), you never forget it. The key is that you learn from it and let it motivate you."
Kreitter admits he watched the video of the state championship twice, once on the day it happened, and about a week ago (early November) when he saw it come up on his facebook.com feed.
While Kreitter has moved past his loss, he says he keep the state championship loss on his mind as a constant motivator.
"I don’t like to watch that match, because it’s like reliving it," Kreitter said. "But just seeing it the other day on facebook feed really refocused me for the start of (my) senior season. Because I lost, I feel like I have more things to prove. I finished second (as a junior), third (as a sophomore) and fourth (as a freshman) (at states), now I want to finish first."
Kreitter has constant reminders of his goals this season from his bedroom wall to his locker at school. His goals include repeating as the MECKA 4A conference champion, 4A West Regional champion, but there’s no question that winning the elusive 4A state title is his main focus.
Kreitter hopes to become only the second, Hough wrestler to win a state championship, joining former, Husky and friend, Jordan Thompson (2014 state champion).
"A goal is only a goal if you write it down, otherwise it’s just a dream," said Kreitter, who hopes to attend and wrestle at the United States’ Merchant Marine Academy (NY) in college. "I thought last year was my time, but it didn’t happen. It definitely feels like my time this year. It’s a big deal. When I watched Jordan (Thompson) win his state title, it really pushed me to want to put my name on that list. It’s a very special list that I want see my name on, too."
Charlotte Observer Wrestlers to Watch
A.J. Leitten, Fort Mill, Sr.: N.C. State commit is a two-time S.C. AAAA state champion, NHSCA All-American, went 38-0 last season and looking to stay perfect as a senior.
Tyler Gregor, Hickory Ridge, Jr.: Defending 3A state champion (113) back be improve on his 47-2 mark from a year ago.
Cade Davis, Cox Mill, Sr. 3A state runner-up (120), this Belmont Abbey commit looks to finish his high school career on top.
Keshon McLean, Hunter Huss, Sr.: 2A state runner-up has 131 career wins, but the one he wants the most in his final high school campaign is the elusive, individual state title.
Esco Walker, Hopewell, Sr.: Titans’ standout was 52-1 last season, finishing 3rd at the 4A state meet. But Walker had a monster off-season winning the High School Nationals in Virginia Beach and now the major Division I recruit looks to carry that momentum into his senior season.
Michael McClelland, Charlotte Latin, Sr.: Two-time NCISAA, individual state champion and Davidson College signee looks to finish with a three-peat.
Matt Price, Piedmont, Sr.: The latest in long line of Piedmont state contenders (152) after finishing third in the state (152/class 3A) last year.
Tanner Gleaton, Central Cabarrus, Jr.: Reigning state runner-up (113) looks to finish one spot higher this season.
Isaiah Johnson, A.L. Brown, Sr.: 4A state runner-up’s only loss was in the finals (160/class 4A) last year. Now he looks to finish on top.
Max Spada, Charlotte Country Day, Sr.: Defending NCISAA 3A state champion (138) wants to finish his Bucs’ career with a repeat performance.
Nick Perrelli, Lake Norman, Sr.: Wildcats’ standout was fifth in the state last year (120), now looks to contend again (126 or 132 likely) in 2017.
Charlotte Observer Wrestling Teams to Watch
Piedmont: The Panthers always seem to be in the state championship mix, and coach Jamie Belk and company (3A state semifinalist last year) have the talent to make another run, led by seniors, Matt Price and Mathis Strickland.
Mooresville: Coach Ben Watson also annually has one of the best 4A teams in the state, and they look to be again in 2016-2017, with seniors, Noah Shaw and Alex Teeter and sophomore, Silas Shaw leading a Blue Devil team that could be one of the most talented to date, according to rival Lake Norman coach, Tom Pavia.
A.L. Brown: The Wonders also made a run last year, advancing to the 4A state quarterfinals, and hope to make a similar charge this season with senior, Isaiah Johnson, leading the way.
Charlotte Latin: Longtime Latin assistant, David Paige, takes over a Hawks’ team that has won five straight NCISAA state titles and a good chance for a sixth in 2017 with defending state champions, Ryan Ensor, Harrison Karp, Michael McClelland, and Ryan Schellpfeffer all back in the lineup.
Metrolina Christian: The Warriors also believe they can be NCISAA state contender (3rd-place last year) with a talented roster back, including defending state champions, Donnie Coleman and Daniel Hattaway and reigning state runner-up’s Coleman Johnson and Jacob Hattaway, all back in the lineup.