Earlier this week, the tournament location was changed from Morristown to Johnson City, and the Hilltoppers decided to host the event at the original Topper Palace.
In the familiar surroundings, the Hilltoppers had four individual champions and 11 state qualifiers overall for their fourth title in the last five years. The final team margin was Science Hill 221.5-192.5 over Tennessee High. Jefferson County finished third, one spot ahead of defending champion Dobyns-Bennett.
“I said it all year that if we didn’t win this tournament, this season would be a disappointment” Science Hill head coach Jimmy Miller said. “We found a way to win it, and I can’t preach enough how our seniors have pushed our team this year. I’m just super happy with where we’re at right now.”
Science Hill had six in the finals led by senior Max Vaughn, who captured his third individual title with a hard-fought 2-0 decision over Tennessee High freshman Dewey Pendley in the 132-pound weight class.
The match was scoreless until a reversal by Vaughn at the one-minute mark of the third period.
“A couple of my teammates had wrestled him over the summer and they said he was tough,” said Vaughn, who improved to 39-9 on the season. “I wrestled him once before, but he gave me a better match this time. It makes a little more enjoyable knowing it’s harder to get than everyone thinks it is. You can never guarantee a match. You have to wrestle have fun and enjoy it.”
Three other Hilltoppers won individual titles.
Austin Bagley, who was named outstanding wrestler for the lower weight classes, took a 13-4 major decision over Alex Jeffers of Dobyns-Bennett at 145. His brother, Hunter Bagley, scored a technical fall (19-4) over Evan Rolla of David Crockett at 195, and Anh Khoa Nguyen pinned Lynn King of Jefferson County in 2:35. of the 182 final.
Other finalists were Marcus Austin at 113 and Ben Rolston at 152, who lost decisions in their championship matches. Besides the six finalists, others headed to the state tournament are: Cooper Williams (third-place at 106), Gary Hudgins (third at 126), Eric Yother (fourth at 120) Sam Lane (fourth at 138) and Shane King-Jessee (fourth at 160).
Miller believed their performances in the consolation bracket was the key to the team championship.
“Where we really made the distance today was the consolation mats,” Miller said. “That’s where we fell short last year. We went in, had a little meeting with those kids and said, ‘Our tournament is going to be won right here.’ And it was. When those consolation finals round was over, it was done.”
David Crockett had three grapplers reach the finals.
The Pioneers were led by Dillinger Messer, who pinned Devin Myers of Cocke County at the 4:58 mark for the 120 championship.
Zachary Bynum lost a tough decision at 106, and Rolla had the aforementioned appearance in the 195 final. Tristan Hefner was the Pioneers’ fourth state qualifier by virtue of his third-place at 113.
“I actually figured this was going to be a rebuilding year because most of the guys were freshmen last year,” Crockett head coach Tod Parker said. “They stepped up their games and have started wrestling real well here at the end.
“Dillinger, he’s a senior, but he’s just a second-year wrestler. It would be amazing to see how good he could be if he had wrestled his freshman and sophomore years.”
Daniel Boone had five grapplers qualify for the state tournament, led by a third-place finish by Dalton Hall at 195. Seniors Caleb Cutshall and Jacob Cutshall made the state at 126 and 132, respectively, while Tom Ketron at 170 and Trey Jenkins at 220 gave the Trailblazers a full handful of state qualifiers.
“It’s pretty exciting because we have a young team and nobody talked about us much,” Boone coach Reid Ratliff said. “We gave a good effort and the kids wrestled hard. We’ve got five kids going to the state tournament and that’s the most we’ve had in several years.”
The state tournament begins Thursday at the Williamson County Agricultural Exposition in Franklin. After the first two rounds of consolations, the tournament continues next Friday and Saturday.