HUNTERSVILLE – Sam Bryant came out of many SouthLake Christian Academy wrestling practices feeling like he hadn’t won. It was by design.

Good thing Bryant got a taste of defeat in practice, because it didn’t happen in the matches that counted.

Bryant, a senior won his second consecutive N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association championship. He was 34-0 en route to winning the title in the 160-pound division.

“In practice, my coaches made sure I felt like I had lost,” Bryant said, laughing. “They made sure. And, I think that was probably what helped, getting beat up by them every day.”

Eagles coaches also worked on the mental and technical aspects. They call it chain wrestling, which is putting together several moves without a noticeable pause.

“It was new for me,” Bryant said. “I’m not the most technical wrestler out there. Last year, I was a lot more sloppy. I did just a few moves at a time. I credit my coaches. I know so much more this year than I did last year. They taught me so much.”

Bryant parlayed the lessons into his unbeaten season.

“Honestly, that was not even a goal,” he said. “Losses aren’t always bad because you can come back from a loss much stronger.”

That was a dilemma Bryant never had to face. The season wasn’t without drama, though. During practice around Christmas, Bryant injured his hand, between his thumb and forefinger. He said he knew it would end up in a cast when the season ended. But he slogged through the pain and tried various methods of wrapping his hand during competition.

The injury limited what Bryant could do on the mat, so he developed a style where he’d “let up” an opponent (giving away a point). But it offered Bryant more opportunities to score takedowns, which are two points.

Bryant became the first undefeated wrestler in SouthLake Christian history.

“He’s a competitor, he loves to compete,” Eagles coach John Nerness said. “He handles pressure well and wants the big matches. He’s a kid that starves for higher-level competition.”

“I think he thought `I see if I work hard, these results will come.’ Some of that was, no doubt, because he was (defending) state champ. …But he was confident at the state tournament. You could tell he enjoyed being there.”

Bryant’s stellar season included a victory against East Lincoln’s Jeremy Tarleton, who won the N.C. 2A state championship, and winning the North Gaston High tournament.

 

COACH OF THE YEAR

Tripp Rogers, who guided Hough High to the I-MECK 4A conference regular-season and tournament championships, is the Herald Weekly’s Wrestling Coach of the Year.

Rogers’ squad was good collectively and individually.

The Huskies were 25-3 in dual-team matches against other schools. They won the first conference championship in school history and finished 6-0 in I-MECK 4A competition. Hough clinched the conference title with a 36-27 against perennial power Lake Norman High.

Hough won two matches in the N.C. 4A dual-team playoffs, defeating South Mecklenburg and Skyland Roberson.

Ten Husky wrestlers were named to the all-conference team, and Rogers was named conference coach of the year. Sebastian Barreto, Palmer Maples and Austin Newell won individual conference titles. Hough won the N.C. 4A West Regional tournament with 174.5 points, and had regional champions in Tanner Russ, Jacob Efird, Charles Smith and Maples.

Seven Hough wrestlers qualified for the state tournament, and Maples, a senior, was the state runner-up in the 170-pound division.