DOVER – Fourteen Delaware wrestlers made their way to their sport’s prized perch on Saturday night at Dover High.
It was a steep climb to the top spot on the victory-stand podium at the 61st annual DIAA State Individual Wrestling Championships, on a route strewn with a myriad of challenges and challengers, devoid of guarantees or gimmees. Even being a previous state champ provided little security, as seven who didn’t win found out.
A few made it look easy, though there was nothing carefree about their effort, such as Smyrna 195-pounder Tony Wuest. The junior’s first-period pin in the finals was his fourth in four tournament matches.
Wuest’s previous three pins came in 32, 13 and 35 seconds as he won his second title, the first coming as a freshman at 182 two years ago. He dislocated his elbow in last year’s semifinals.
“There’s a lot of variables after what happened last year,” he said after defeating Wilmington Christian’s Martin Reynoso. “I just wanted to be dominating.”
Smyrna also crowned the night’s lone three-time champ as senior Chase Archangelo pinned Sanford’s Luke McDonough with a cradle in 2:39 at 145. He’s the 30th three-time champ (10 others have won four), and became emotional on the mat as his accomplishment began to register.
“Just to get it done and all my hard work paid off,” said Archangelo, who also mentioned how his father, Joe, had won his state title across town at Delaware State. That was in 1988 for Claymont.
Archangelo was voted the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler Award winner.
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Most got there the hard way, and few knew how trying the task was better than Keith Medley. The Caravel Academy senior had one third- and two second-place finishes to his credit, but won a coveted state title 5-1 at a 220 over Sussex Central’s Johnny Morris.
He then retreated to the edge of the mat, put his hands on his knees and cried.
“It’s really hard. I was able to work my way up the steps,” he said of the victory podium. “And that’s what it is, it’s just steps. You work your way up and some people just don’t get up to the top immediately.”
The evening ended in dramatic fashion at 160 pounds as Cape Henlopen’s Cory Lawson won 6-4 in overtime over Sussex Central’s Brandon Bautista in a matchup of defending state champs. It was one of six bouts decided by three points or fewer.
The 14 titles were won by wrestlers from 10 schools, with Smyrna taking three and Milford and Sussex Central two each
Smyrna’s second state champ of the night, sophomore 120-pounder Nick Natarcola, prevailed in dramatic but satisfying fashion. His takedown with four seconds left gave him a 3-1 decision over Cape Henlopen’s Anthony Caruso, the state 106 champ last year who had ousted two-time state champ Cameron Hayes from Caesar Rodney in the semifinals.
“I didn’t place last year. I got upset in the first round,” Natarcola said. “It gave me a lot of motivation to come back to put in all this work and wrestle over the summer and practicing seven days a week and running five days a week.”
More drama followed at 126, where Rashad Stratton of Sussex Central lost an early lead but garnered the decisive takedown with 46 seconds left for a 7-6 decision over Jesse Muaka from the Charter School of Wilmington.
One of the night’s more anticipated finals followed at 132, where Caesar Rodney freshman Jackson Dean repeated his Henlopen Conference Tournament accomplishment by beating Smyrna’s Greg Baum, state champ at 120 last year. A takedown with :43 left made the difference in a 7-5 decision.
“It means a lot,” said Dean, who started wrestling as a first-grader and got more serious about it the last three years, traveling around the country to tournaments. “CR hasn’t had a four-time state champion. I’m on the road to that. That’s definitely my goal.”
More down-to-the-wire action followed at 138, where Dover’s Anthony Fisher and Middletown’s Dante Immediato traded reversals until a late escape and takedown made Fisher a 5-3 winner over Immediato, state champ at 126 last year.
Sanford did crown a champion at 152, where top-seeded Timmy Griffith prevailed 9-4 over Nate Bryant of Smyrna.
Division I state team champion Sussex Central gave retiring coach Phil Shultie his first state champ in the night’s first match as Blake Chambers, the top seed, decisioned defending champion Larsen Wilson of Smyrna 5-1 at 170. A controversial second-period takedown – referees signaled back points but no takedown – gave Chambers an early lead but a late takedown solidified the victory.
At 182, third-seeded Austin Clayton captured just the second state title in St. Georges’ history 7-3 over top-seeded Lucas Hudson of Sussex Central. Clayton scored a takedown in each of the three periods in a dominant effort. His takedown prowess had brought him back from a 4-0 deficit in a 9-7 semifinal win.
“Ninth-grade year, I was 0-2 in conferences,” Clayton said of the Blue Hen meet three years ago, “and that day after I lost my second match, I told myself ‘I will be a state champion. Whatever I need to do to make it happen. And I did it. I put the work in.’ ”
At 285, Cape’s Zach Flores and Milford’s Brian Wynes did the heavyweight dance, each scoring only on escapes. When Wynes was able to ride Flores out during the entire third overtime period, the Bucs’ senior had a 2-1 win and the state title.
Salesianum picked up a victory at 106, where sophomore Zach Spence, who had three first-minute pins en route to the finals, won 10-6 over Indian River’s Will Rayne.
Milford then became the first school of the night to crown two champs when Robbie Rosser scored a 16-0 technical fall at 113 over Salesianum freshman Owen Klinger.
The 28 finalists represented 14 schools. Nineteen were Henlopen Conference wrestlers, with three from the Blue Hen Conference and six from independent schools.
The finals followed an entertaining semifinal round Saturday in which 14 of the 28 bouts were decided by one or two points. Two semifinals matched former state champions.
At 120, Caruso used a third-period reversal and near fall to down Hayes, the top seed, 5-1.
And at 160, a second-period takedown and another at the end of match pushed Bautista past Sanford’s Andrew Brooks 5-2. Bautista won at 152 last year and Brooks prevailed at 138. Bautista’s reward was a finals matchup against Lawson, the top seed.
Contact Kevin Tresolini at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.