By Justin Jarrett
May River wrestlers claimed two individual state titles, and Hilton Head High’s James Levy claimed the gold he has long sought after two runner-up finishes Saturday at the SCHSL Wrestling Championships at Dreher High School.
May River’s Eli Hall won his second consecutive state title, teammate Gabe Juarez joined him atop the podium, and Levy finally broke through in his third trip to the state finals to highlight a wildly successful day for Beaufort County wrestlers.
Four Lowco area wrestlers won silver — Battery Creek’s Sam Degroat, May River’s Santiago Rueda, and Beaufort High teammates Colton Phares and Theo Washington — and another five placed third — Battery Creek’s Elmer Linares, Bluffton’s Nate Elliston, May River’s Emilio Mendoza, and Hilton Head High’s Zao Estrada and Drew Vigh.
Levy was the first champion crowned from the Lowco on Saturday evening, earning a 5-1 decision over Greenwood’s Jacob Smith in the 113-pound final after advancing with a first-round bye and a first-period pin in the semifinals.
“Taking second two years in a row left a really bad thought in my mind,” Levy said as he signed his finals bout sheet. “I wasn’t going to let it happen again.”
May River added to its growing list of state champs with Juarez’s dominant performance at 160 pounds. Juarez did not allow a point in his two matches at the final site, winning 10-0 in the semifinals before earning a 3-0 decision over Bryson McLees of Travelers Rest to win gold.
Hall followed him up with an impressive showing in the 220-pound final, avenging his loss in the Class 4A dual championship with a 6-1 win over Eastside’s Rickey Abercrombie after grinding out a 4-3 decision in a hard-fought semifinal.
Degroat, Rueda, Phares, and Washington all came one win away from earning the title of state champion, with Degroat coming closest to claiming gold. Trailing 4-2 after going to his back in the second period, Degroat rode Powdersville’s Tom Ross for the entire third period, giving up a point for stalling but gaining two stalling points to make it 5-4. Rather than turn Ross loose and try to gain a takedown, Degroat went for the turn and was unable to score near-fall points to put him over the top.
Estrada became the highest-placing female wrestler in the history of the event with her third-place showing, which included a pair of first-period pins. Her only loss of the tournament came in the form of a second-period pin at the hands of eventual champion Tyler Tice of powerhouse Eastside.
Linares, Mendoza, Vigh, and Elliston each won their consolation finals after falling in the semifinals, and Battery Creek’s Gunnar Degroat placed fourth at 132 pounds.
The tournament format was reduced from eight qualifiers per weight class to six, with the wrestlers who lost their first-round matches eliminated from medal contention, as opposed to the full double-elimination format used in the past. Hilton Head High’s KJ Holland, May River’s Anthony Nelsen and Chris Snowden, and Beaufort’s Matthew Durrance and Jeremiah Simmons each qualified but fell in the first round.