By BEN JOHNSON
All Reese Davis needed was one more victory at last season’s regional wrestling tournament. A win over Bishop Kelley’s Colton Craig would have punched Davis’ ticket to the Class 5A state tournament.
Instead, Davis suffered a 17-0 setback and had to wait another year before reaching his first final weekend of the season.
Finally, though, his wait is over and he gets to try again. Davis will be at 138 pounds for Tahlequah as the Tigers enter the Class 5A regional tournament at Edison on Friday and Saturday.
Davis will have to contend with Collinsville’s Gary Wayne Harding — a two-time state champion — in the 138 field, but fueling Davis is last year’s consolation loss.
“It’s definitely a motive,” said Davis, who has finished second at both the Sapulpa and Pryor tournaments this season.
“You just have to get over the hill, and I haven’t done it yet.”
Beyond Harding, Davis will be in the mix with Edison’s Rashawn Howard and Durant’s Jared Woods.
“Anybody can be beat,” Davis said, sizing up his competition. “It should be my day.”
Tahlequah coach James Rappe was in step with his wrestler’s thoughts on the 138 field.
“The Harding kid, at 138, I think he’s beatable,” Rappe said. “Yes, he’s won (the state tournament) a couple of times, and he’s tough, but anything can happen at any time.”
Looking to repeat as state-tournament qualifiers for Tahlequah will be Mitch Sellers (132) and Hestin Lamons (145). Sellers and Lamons, both juniors, are two-time state tournament entrants with Lamons finishing second and third at the 5A state tournament in his freshman and sophomore years, respectively.
“Lamons looks as good as I’ve ever seen him on his feet,” Rappe said, assessing his junior middleweight. “He’s moving around, he’s quick and he’s not heavy on anything. He’s moving very well.”
Despite extracting some revenge on Chickasha’s David Eakers to pick up the bronze in the consolation finals of last year’s state tournament, Lamons — who lost to Eakers in the first round of the 126 field at the state tournament — said he viewed last year as an opportunity lost. Now he’s given himself an ultimatum.
“After freshman year and being a runner-up,” he said, “then going down and getting third my sophomore year, I feel a lot of pressure to be in the finals again.
As for Sellers, who finished third at last year’s regional tournament, Rappe said he’s at a different level right now.
“Mitch Sellers has put it into another gear that I’ve never seen him in,” Rappe said. “It’s really strange to have seen a child grow up the way I’ve seen them grow up and then switch gears like that. I’ve seen him wrestle really well, but I’ve never seen him like this.”
Sellers will join the 132 fray as the No. 3 seed, behind Collinsville’s Will Steltzlen and Edison’s Aaron O’Brien.
“I like our chances,” Rappe said. “I watched Mitch wrestle O’Brien, and Mitch has beaten O’Brien. Every time it’s a close match within one or two points.”
Other Tahlequah wrestlers vying for spots in the state tournament will be Paul Sargent (126), Chad Harlan (heavyweight) and Zech VanFleet (120) — who, like Davis, came up one win shy of the state tournament last season.
“Paul Sargent has a very strong chance of getting in,” Rappe said. “VanFleet will be up to 120, instead of his 113 weight since he’s started to grow. We felt like he was stronger at that weight, so we bumped him up.”
One concern for Tahlequah heading into regional competition is the extended period of time off since the Tigers’ last competition — the Pryor tournament on Jan. 26. Rappe, though, isn’t concerned about any potential rust.
“That was a concern of mine, was the boys not being crisp and ready to go,” Rappe said. “What we did was we scheduled out some knock-down, drag-out, meat-grinder practices with some teams here in the area. We’ve been going back and forth to Muskogee, and we’ve been wrestling with Fort Gibson and Wagoner. As far as being rusty, we’ve got some great training sessions in, and I think we’re as ready as we could possibly be.”
Only the bouts in Tulsa will bare that out.
Class 5A east regional (at Edison)
The favorite: Collinsville. The Cardinals, after yet another dual state championship, are rolling right along, and that's not likely to change at regional competition. Collinsville has claimed team tournament titles at Yukon, Cushing and Kansas City (Mo.) this season, thanks to a lineup with Christian Moody (106), Davion Jeffries (113), Ryan Heiden (126), Will Steltzlen (132), Gary Wayne Harding (138) and Zach Abkemeier (170).
Other contenders: Claremore and Shawnee. Claremore was runner-up to Collinsville last year, and the Zebras have retooled again this year to boast a strong lineup. Brycen Short (160), Dillon Williams (182) and Dylan Freeman (heavyweight) should all make a push at the state tournament for Claremore. With Nick Poncho (106), Bryce O'Conner (113) and Michael Smith (120), Shawnee should challenge Claremore for second.
Notebook: Brice Inbody (182) is Bishop Kelley's best chance at qualifying for the state tournament. Inbody won tournament titles at Bishop Kelley and Pryor during the regular season. ... Outside of Harding and Moody of Collinsville, East Central's Mark Carter (126) could be the best wrestler in the field. Carter won individual titles at the Bishop Kelley, Coweta and Miami tournaments this season. ... Much like Carter, McAlester's Donald Cannon (120) will likely be the Buffaloes only representative at the state tournament. Cannon finished first at the Maverick Conference Tournament and at the Coweta tournament. ... Logan Litke of Pryor will add to the depth of the 113 field, making it perhaps the hardest weight to earn a state-tournament berth. ... Skiatook's Ricky Kreige (113) and Kurrey Harmon (120) are two viable threats to make the state tournament for the Bulldogs. ... Western Heights could make some noise in the regional with Clayton Bierig (106), Harley Stanley (182) and Cory Barnett (heavyweight).
Tahlequah's lineup: Tate Medlin (106); Zech VanFleet (120); Paul Sargent (126); Mitch Sellers (132); Reese Davis (138); Hestin Lamons (145); Trent Patrick (152); Logan Hulse (170); Parker Weavel (182); Justin Gibbons (195); Rusty Ballard (220); Chad Harlan (heavyweight).