Prep Wrestling: Three state champions for North Rowan
By David Shaw
GREENSBORO — Most freshmen are trying to pass history, not make it.
But that’s precisely what North Rowan’s Marc Gonzalez did Saturday at the Greensboro Coliseum, where he became Rowan County’s first ninth-grader to win a state wrestling championship.
“I knew all about it,” Gonzalez said after earning a 7-2 decision over Chatham Central’s James Dagget in the 1A 106-pound final. “That’s why I gave it all I had. I’ve been working since I was in third grade.”
Gonzalez was one of three Cavs to take home titles on Saturday. Thomas Fowler won at 170 and Will Robertson at 285.
East Rowan’s Mark Almeida fell in his title match at 120 pounds.
As far as Gonzalez’s win, credit an assist from North assistant coach Travis Lindsay, who provided the phrase-that-pays just moments before he took the mat.
“In the warmup room, I went to him and asked if he could help me out with some top techniques,” Gonzalez said. “So we went over it. Then, during the match I heard him yell, ‘What we did in the room, what we did in the room!’ ”
Gonzalez (45-4) was locked in a 2-2 tie midway through the third period when he used a 2-on-1 tilt to keep Dagget on the mat for several seconds. It earned him five back points and a history-making moment.
“We worked on some cheap tilts and little quick turns and — lo and behold — he went out there and executed them perfectly,” Lindsay said. “He did it picture-perfect. He could have done it blindfolded. It was beautiful.”
Gonzalez followed in the footsteps of Tim Nesbitt (1980) and Larry Jackson (2005).
“What a great day,” Gonzalez said. “And what a great finish.”
Two hours later, bleach-blond teammate Fowler added another brushstroke to his picture-perfect season. The 170-pound senior avenged a disappointing loss in last year’s final by pinning Rosman’s Terry Henderson in 3:29.
“Losing last year was a big factor today,” Fowler said after finishing 47-6. “I had something to prove. I watched that film, like, six times before I came out here. I wanted to remind myself that I was good enough to get here but didn’t finish.”
A three-time state qualifier, Fowler trailed 3-0 with a minute remaining in the second period.
“I told myself if I’m down in the second period I’m gonna go all out,” he said. “I finally got that one takedown and just busted it. I finished what I didn’t finish last year.”
The victory gave Fowler a 109-42 career record.
“Yeah,” he said with a smile that could light up Times Square. “And my freshman year, I won one match. I never thought I’d be close to this. Three years later, here I am.”
North coach Tim Pittman said Fowler dedicated himself to winning a title 52 weeks ago.
“After he lost here, he came to me and said ‘Let’s not fall short again,’ ” Pittman said. “Then, recently, he came to me and said he still had seven goals: four matches in the region and three in the states. He reached all seven goals.”
North heavyweight Robertson gave the Cavs a final-round sweep when he outpointed Cherokee’s Sam Wahnetah 3-1.
“He pinned me in like 30 seconds last year,” said Robertson, a junior who went 50-2 this winter. “I think the key was I was in better shape than him. He had about 20 pounds on me.”
Robertson turned a shaky, first-period moment into a takedown and a 2-0 lead.
“He snapped me down, but I scrambled out of it,” he said. “I guess I was a little quicker than he was.”
Wahnetah used a second-period escape to draw within 2-1, but Pittman was angered when a possible takedown wasn’t awarded.
“He had him in both armpits with both feet inbounds,” Pittman said. “It should have been a takedown.”
Robertson chose to soldier on.
“It was close, but you can’t complain about that,” he said. “You’ve gotta take it out of the ref’s hands.”
A mid-period escape in the third gave Robertson the cushion he needed.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said post-match. “What a day for North Rowan. I have to give it up to our coaches. Last year we were building up. This year we got here.”
You’d think Almeida would have been as happy as a clam at high tide, but you’d be wrong.
The East Rowan senior had a difficult time coming to grips with a 10-9 loss to Jacksonville’s Tyler Ross in the 3A 120-pound championship bout.
“I’m heartbroken,” he said. “Five years of hard work to get second. It feels awful.”
Almeida had a legitimate excuse. He wrestled with a right ankle injury suffered in Friday’s quarterfinals. Then he cut his lip in the first period against Ross and suffered a bloody nose in the third.
“He’s been through a lot,” said East coach Barry Justus. “He doesn’t like to lose. He worked too hard to lose by a point.”
Almeida, who finished 43-6, fell behind 9-4 in a troublesome opening period.
“I was scared the whole time before that match,” he said. “I was so worried I was going to hurt my ankle again. But with all the adrenaline, I forgot about it.”
Almeida rallied to forge a 9-9 tie after two periods, then lost the bout on a third-period escape.
“I let him go because I thought I could get a takedown,” he explained. “But in the end, he got too defensive.”
Other state place-winners included Salisbury sophomore D’Andre Hunter (fourth at 126/2A), West Rowan’s Trey Shepherd (fifth at heavyweight/3A), East Rowan’s Jason Deutsch (5th at 113/3A) and Davie’s Ryan Smith (sixth at 126/4A).
NOTES: North totaled 73 team points and finished second in the team standings behind West Wilkes (97.5). … The Cavs overcame some dissension after two seniors — top-seeded 113-pounder Giancarlo Solorzano and A.J. Chambers (160) — quit the team Friday night. “They were upset that they lost yesterday,” Pittman said. “Their parents came to the hotel and took them home.” … Pittman, Lindsay and fellow North assistant Darrick Green all sported emerald green dress shirts. “Everybody’s going green these days,” Pittman joked. Added Lindsay: “We’d like to thank the local J.C. Penney’s for outfitting us.”