Every year, fans look over the brackets for the DIAA Individual Wrestling Championships and try to determine the toughest one.
The subject often leads to spirited debates, but this year, there is no doubt. Nine returning state champions will be in action on Friday and Saturday at Dover High, and three of them are in the same bracket at 160 pounds.
Cape Henlopen senior Cory Lawson won the 160-pound title last year and is the top seed this year. But this time, he will have to contend with No. 2 Andrew Brooks of Sanford – last year’s 138-pound champ and the outstanding wrestler at last weekend’s Independent Schools tournament – and No. 3 Brandon Bautista of Sussex Central, last year’s 152-pound winner.
If the seeds hold, Brooks and Bautista would clash in the semifinals, with the winner meeting Lawson in the final.
Lawson nipped Bautista 4-3 during a dual meet on Jan. 4. Then Bautista edged Lawson 4-3 in the final match of the DIAA Dual Meet Division I semifinals on Feb. 14, giving Sussex Central the team victory and eventually leading to the Golden Knights’ second state title. They tangled again in the Henlopen Conference finals last Saturday, with Lawson winning 3-1.
“I don’t know if there was anything technically I did differently, or if I wrestled better,” Lawson said. “Every time we wrestle, I think it’s who’s going to push each other harder and who’s going to go their absolute farthest distance to win.”
Henlopen Conference wrestlers have won 10 of the 14 weight classes in each of the last four years. When the state wrestling committee seeded this year’s brackets on Sunday night, nine of the top seeds were from the Henlopen.
They include Smyrna senior Chase Archangelo, who has a chance to be the 30th three-time champion in Delaware history. Archangelo won at 113 pounds in 2015 and 132 pounds last year.
This year, the Cleveland State signee is the top seed at 145. And he knows everyone wants to beat him.
“That just drives me to work harder, because I know I have a big target on my back,” Archangelo said. “Everybody is a great athlete, and there are a lot of great opponents. I want the best guy. I want everyone to have a chance to wrestle me and see what they can do with me.”
Caesar Rodney junior Cameron Hayes has an even bigger opportunity. He won at 106 in 2015 at Milford, then transferred to CR and won at 113 last year. That put this year’s top seed at 120 pounds halfway to becoming only the 11th four-time champ in state history.
“There’s a lot of pressure there. I don’t try to hide from it,” Hayes said. “I get nervous, and I try to turn it to sharpness. I go in, keep my head high and confident, but I don’t underestimate any opponent.”
The other top seeds are Salesianum sophomore Zach Spence at 106, Milford junior Robbie Rosser at 113, St. Georges junior Nick Novarnik at 126, CR freshman Jackson Dean at 132, Dover senior Anthony Fisher at 138, Sanford senior Timmy Griffith at 152, Sussex Central senior Blake Chambers at 170, Sussex Central senior Lucas Hudson at 182, Smyrna junior Tony Wuest at 195, Caravel senior Keith Medley at 220 and Cape Henlopen senior Zach Flores at 285.
Action will begin at 4 p.m. Friday, with the quarterfinals scheduled for 7. Saturday’s first session will start at 10:30 a.m., with the semifinals held at 11. Saturday’s final session will begin with fifth-place matches at 5:30, with the finals starting at 7.
Tickets are $5 for Friday, $6 for Saturday’s first session and $7 for the finals. Tickets may be purchased in advance online at https://statechamps.com/clients/diaa/ and will also be available at the door. The finals will be streamed for a fee at www.nfhsnetwork.com.
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ