A supposed rebuilding year took the day off.
And Beaufort County once again flexed its muscle as one of the toughest -- or perhaps the toughest -- wrestling counties in the Lower State.
Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and Battery Creek high schools combined to qualify 14 wrestlers for the Class 3-A individual state championships next weekend, earning their berths with top-four finishes Saturday in the Class 3-A Lower State qualifier at Bluffton.
Five walked away with wins, giving the county championship victories in more than one-third of the weight classes. Sophomore Label Lewis (112 pounds) and senior Campbell Miller (130) won for the Region 7-AAA-champion Seahawks; sophomore Austin Farmer (125) and senior Manuel Lopez (160) claimed titles for the Bobcats; and senior Bear Childers gave the Dolphins a win at 215. The five winners will take the Lower State's top seed into next weekend's event, which takes place at the Civic Center of Anderson.
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The Seahawks and Bobcats will be taking five wrestlers each to Anderson, and Battery Creek will take four.
And although those numbers may be down from last year -- in which the three schools combined to qualify 19 wrestlers for the Class 3-A state tournament -- they certainly lend an optimistic outlook toward the future. Of this year's bunch, only five are seniors, leaving nine to return next year.
The state tournament includes eight wrestlers in each weight class -- four from the Lower State and four from the Upper State. They will be matched against one another based on the seed they earned at qualifying tournaments this weekend.
Class 3-A Lower State Wrestling Champions
Saturday, at Bluffton High School
Name: Label Lewis
School: Hilton Head High
Notable: A year after taking second at the individual state championships, Lewis guaranteed himself another shot at the title. And with Saturday's first-place finish, he will take some momentum -- and some experience -- with him this year. Lewis rolled his way to victory Saturday, capping a dominant performance with an 11-2 victory in his championship match.
Quotable: "I feel really motivated," Lewis said. "Last year, I gave up a little easier. This year, I'm pushing myself to succeed like (former Hilton Head High wrestlers) Jack (Duane) and David (Beck). And I'm less nervous because I've been here before."
Name: Austin Farmer
Notable: Farmer missed the first half of his sophomore season with a broken collarbone, but his extra time at the gym and in the Bobcats' wrestling room helped him regain his form. It's the second consecutive Lower State win for the sophomore, who said his goal is to finish in the top three next weekend.
Quotable: "I've trained real hard since I got back -- I knew I had to train hard if I wanted to be close to the top," Farmer said. "... Now I got a little more confidence, but I'm going to make sure I don't get too cocky, because that's what set me back last year."
Name: Campbell Miller
School: Hilton Head High
Notable: With 30 seconds remaining in his championship match, Miller was clinging to a one-point lead when St. James' Jamie Bolduc made an attempt at a reversal. The move appeared to be working, but Miller hung on -- just barely -- to win the match and take the top seed into next weekend's state championships. Miller failed to qualify for the state tournament last year after Bolduc defeated him in the consolation semifinals.
Quotable: "I was holding on for dear life -- I didn't want to let go," Miller said. "I was terrified I was about to give up two (points) and it would be over. ... He's the one that beat me out of my spot last year, and I wanted to whoop his (butt)."
Name: Manuel Lopez
Notable: In arguably the day's most exciting match, Lopez came back from a 4-1 deficit in the third period to send his match against St. James' Gregg Johnson to overtime. The two failed to score in either of the first two overtimes, setting up an ultimate tiebreaker, which Lopez won. He is the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the state in his weight class and will advance to the state tournament for the second consecutive season.
Quotable: "Going into overtime, the whole gym was loud, and it gave me all the energy I needed," Lopez said. "I feel ecstatic right now. I feel like I have enough energy to wrestle that match again. It must be that adrenaline kicking in. What more can you ask for?"
Name: Bear Childers
School: Battery Creek
Notable: Childers' scrapping partner, David Ratliff, was forced to settle for third after losing an overtime match in the semifinals, but Childers gave Battery Creek's heavy duo a reason to celebrate with his second consecutive trip to the state tournament. Childers was locked in a 2-2 tie with Chapin's Brandon Owens in the second period of the championship match, but he reversed Owens and stuck him for the pin.
Quotable: "I knew he was going for the switch, so I re-switched on him," Childers said. "Usually what happens is he ends up on his back, and that's what happened. ... I'm taking first (at state). I'm confident, and I know I've been working twice as hard as those guys."
Class 3-A state qualifiers
Battery Creek: Bear Childers (215, first), Chris Bockelman (103, second), Delmar Sanders (130, third), David Ratliff (285, third)
Bluffton: Austin Farmer (125, first), Manuel Lopez (160, first), Jason Williams (145, second), Levi Joly (112, third), Michael Meyerink (135, fourth)
Hilton Head High: Label Lewis (112, first), Campbell Miller (130, first), Chris Ordonez (125, third), Matt Johns (119, fourth), Nick Bautista (215, fourth)
NOTE: The top four finishers in each weight class Saturday qualified for next weekend's Class 3-A individual state championships at the Civic Center of Anderson