Mitchel Langford’s last match in North Henderson’s gym was anticlimactic.
Can’t the same be said for almost every one the Knights senior has wrestled the past four years?
Langford improved to 45-0 after accepting an injury default from Erwin senior Gabe Wilson (40-3) in Saturday afternoon’s 120-pound championship finals of the 3-A Western Regional tournament.
As of sign of respect, coaches still voted Langford the two-day tournament’s most outstanding wrestler.
It marked the 193rd career victory for the three-time state champion who has never technically been beaten in his high school career. Langford forfeited a pair of matches as a freshman when he was too weak to compete with the flu.
The NCHSAA tournament begins Thursday inside the Greensboro Coliseum and Langford’s bid to become the second four-time state champion in Western North Carolina history will be one of the biggest statewide storylines.
As of right now, Langford doesn’t expect to wrestle in college, so this could truly be his final tournament.
“There is a lot of added pressure,” Langford said.
“But I feel good, and I feel like I’m ready. It’s always good when you have a wrestler like (Wilson) who is local, too. It helps you both succeed.”
Langford beat Wilson, 10-2, in last year’s state finals at 113 pounds and the two have wrestled twice since then (both wins for Langford).
Appalachian State coach JohnMark Bentley (who is a 1997 Avery County graduate) is the only four-time state champion wrestler that WNC has ever produced. Bentley’s high school record was 144-0.
Langford wasn’t alone on the awards podium at Saturday’s 3-A regional tournament.
Enka freshman Phil Daub (106 pounds), North Buncombe sophomore Aydan Arroyo (126), Enka junior Michael Cantrell (145), Pisgah senior Dillon O’Neil (152), North Buncombe junior Peter Simonovich (182) and North Buncombe senior Mikhail Simonovich (195) won their weight classes as well.
Mikhail Simonovich (32-2) enjoyed a breakthrough win at 220 pounds in last year’s state tournament and has dropped down to 195 in pursuit of his second NCHSAA 3-A title. He pinned all three of his regional opponents in either the first or second period.
“There’s no week like the week before the state tournament. Everything is different,” Mikhail Simonovich said.
“I’m definitely excited. As a (former state champion), I know that people are going to be gunning for me. I’m just going in with the same approach, the same way as I have in the past.”
Daub (51-1) and Cantrell (43-9) were equally impressive in the 3-A regional for the Mountain Athletic Conference dual team champion Jets.
Daub pinned four other 106-pound wrestlers, including Fred T. Foard’s Nick Kaufmann in a 2 minute and 59 second final.
Cantrell scored a takedown midway through the second and third periods to give East Henderson junior Aaron Owensby (44-1) his first loss, 6-3.
“I lost a tough match (in the MAC tournament) and it’s really motivated me,” Cantrell said.
“I’ve busted my butt. Now after this, I’m hoping to get in the top-two at the state tournament.”
Mitchell kept the championships coming by winning the 1-A Western Regional tournament held Friday and Saturday at Walkertown.
The Mountaineers racked up 201 points, compared to 126 for runner-up Mount Airy, and qualified eight wrestlers for the 1-A state tournament. That group includes three regional champions – Kyler Hoilman (120 pounds), Levi Richardson (126) and Todd Self (heavyweight).
Mitchell is WNC’s first-ever back-to-back champion in dual team competition and was second at last year’s 1-A individual tournament by only half a point.
Murphy’s Malachi Beaver (182), Avery County’s Ryan Sheppard (195) and Swain County’s Spencer McCoy (220) were also WNC champions. McCoy (18-0) is a former two-time state champion who missed the first two months of this season with a knee injury from football.
McDowell’s Jarrett Dula was the only local wrestler to win his weight class (170) at the 4-A Western Regional tournament held Friday and Saturday at Charlotte Hough.
No area winners emerged from the 2-A tournament at West Lincoln.