Bryant’s first trip to state final proves fruitful
by Staff Writer
Last year, Sam Bryant didn’t qualify for the wrestling state tournament. This year, at the same tournament, Bryant didn’t lose.
How’s that for a first-timer?
Bryant, a SouthLake Christian Academy junior, capped a strong season with a championship in the 152-pound division of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association. He finished with a 35-5 record, which included matches in rigorous tournaments and dual matches that coach John Nerness intentionally scheduled.
Bryant is the Lake Norman Publication’s 2011-12 Wrestler of the Year.
The spark for Bryant’s championship season began last year, soon after the state tournament. A strong conditioning program, combined with lots of matches during the summer, sharpened Bryant and several of his SouthLake teammates.
“I knew I could do better,” Bryant said. “As a team, we all knew we could do better. We were all motivated and had better drive after last year’s state tournament.”
Bryant’s improvement was evident as he piled up early-season victories. “I could definitely tell early in the season, but we were seeing a level of competition at tournaments that were better than me,” Bryant said. “I could tell the work had paid off, but it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Bryant opened the state tournament with an easy victory by pinning his opponent. The ensuing two victories also came via pin, but were fairly difficult, Bryant said.
It set up the championship final against top seed Sam Pruett (High Point Wesleyan Christian). Bryant was the tournament’s second seed.
Bryant fell behind early, but rallied by executing a reversal in the final period. A tie score sent the two into a sudden death, overtime period. The first wrestler to score would be state champion.
Bryant eventually took Pruett to the mat with a snap down (a takedown maneuver) to claim the championship.
“It was awesome,” Bryant said. “When I was down, I knew I wasn’t being as aggressive as I should have been.”
Working hard buys right into SouthLake’s plan, Nerness said.
“We’re constantly trying to sell a culture of work ethic,” he said. “Train like a madman, wrestle like a madman. Sam’s just one of those guys who bought into the whole work ethic.”
Bryant was the lone Eagle to wear a captain’s “C” patch this season.
“To be a captain, you not only have to work hard in the offseason, but you’ve also got to produce,” Nerness said.