Tahlequah Daily Press

High School Sports

March 5, 2014

Great grappling

State tournament caps banner year for wrestling in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY — Dustin Mason held on for dear life. The junior heavyweight at Tuttle wasn’t about to let Weatherford’s Jose Cuevas break free of his grasp.

Cuevas split Mason’s hands apart and appeared to scramble away from Mason’s stranglehold. The Weatherford coaches started to rejoice, but at the same time, so did Tuttle’s Matt Surber.

The officials conferred and Mason was credited with the victory, winning a Class 4A state championship with a 2-1 victory after an ultimate rideout at the heavyweight division. Mason grabbed both ends of his singlet, pushing the word “TUTTLE” further out for all the fans in State Fair Arena to see. He even made it a point for Weatherford fans to see his school’s name across his singlet — all while sticking his tongue out for all to see.

And if that wasn’t enough heavyweight excitement for those in attendance, there was Coweta’s Griffin Qualls on the mat next to Mason. Qualls put on a show at Tahlequah High School for the Class 5A regional tournament on Feb. 22, and he didn’t stray from the same script at the state tournament.

And not to be outdone by Mason’s ultimate rideout showdown, Qualls and Western Heights’ Cory Barnett engaged in the same winner-take-all scenario. Qualls not only broke free of Barnett’s possession, but he also managed an additional takedown to cap off a 5-2 win.

Qualls celebrated by unhooking his headgear and launching it in the direction of his Coweta backers — which, coincidentally, was not far from media row. As the headgear cascaded down just short of stands, Qualls stood and flexed with his palms near his head as Barnett mourned his loss by remaining face down on the mat.

That’s how the 2013-2014 wrestling season concluded. And what a season it was.

Much like the final acts provided by Mason and Qualls, the wrestling campaign was full of fantastic storylines.

• The elite four-time state champions club expanded by two with Collinsville’s Gary Wayne Harding (138 pounds) and Will Steltzlen (145) joining the mix. Harding capped his season with yet another dominating performance, a 16-0 technical fall over Pryor’s Cody Foos. And while getting all he could handle from Tahlequah’s Mitch Sellers, Steltzlen still managed to join the upper echelon of wrestlers in the state with a 3-1 decision triumph only a few moments after Harding was done.

“We made a little bit of history (Saturday) and we did it together in every way,” Harding told the Oklahoman. “Being on the same team and being workout partners since third grade, we’ve made each other better over the years.”

There’s no denying that. Now Harding will head off to Stillwater and join Oklahoma State’s wrestling team where he’ll chase his next ambition — a national championship.

• The Dixon triplets — Joel (182), Lance (220) and Andrew (285) — at Edmond North each repeated as state champions. Now they’ll head to Oklahoma, while teammate, Derek White, who is nationally ranked at 195 pounds, will venture to Nebraska and wrestle in the Big 10.

• Collinsville (5A), Tuttle (4A) and Perry (3A) all continued their yearly dominance with state titles, and Stillwater provided Class 6A with a new champion for the third straight year.

There’s no denying it; it was a banner year for wrestling in Oklahoma. From guys like Sallisaw’s Jadon Davenport (4A 195), Locust Grove’s Cub Yeager (132) and Davis’ Braden Ruth (3A 220) claiming their third titles to Braden Stringer gracing Blanchard with its first wrestling state champion to Hestin Lamons winning Tahlequah its first state title since 2006 to 50 freshmen qualifying for the state tournament, it was a season of memorable moments across the state’s wrestling landscape. And while wrestlers such as Harding, Steltzlen, Davenport, Ruth and the Dixon triplets move on, they pass the torch to Daton Fix and Kaden Gfeller — freshmen at Sand Springs and Heritage Hall, respectively.

The aforementioned seniors were great ambassadors for wrestling in the state. Now it’s up to the youngsters to keep the momentum going for years to come.

One thing’s for sure: if we keep years like this in wrestling, the sport is in great shape.

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