Cleveland Wrestlers Basking In Glory Of Two State Championships

Blue Raiders Totally Dominate While Winning Biggest Tournaments

Thursday, February 21, 2013 - by John Hunt

CLEVELAND -- It was an incredible, record-breaking season for the Cleveland Blue Raider wrestling team.

With Jake Yost as the head coach for the first time, the Blue Raiders rose to the occasion when it counted most, winning the State Duals and Traditional tournament titles in a way that will be remembered and talked about for generations to come.

Perhaps the State Duals was the most impressive performance as they lost four individual matches in four dual meets.  That doesn't count the semifinal match against Heritage when they forfeited the final five weights after the victory had been secured.

They were on a roll and proved it by whipping a pretty good Wilson Central team in the championship by a landslide 78-4 score in a match where all 13 Cleveland winners won with a pin, including nine in the first period.

After rolling through the Region 3 tournament and qualifying all 14 individuals for the traditional state, the Blue Raiders never trailed as the lead continued to stretch to a final of 85.5 points over runner-up Soddy Daisy.

Cleveland had eight medalists in that last gathering, including three champions. 

Chris DeBien, Austin Oliver and Haden Hamilton all won individual titles while Ethan West finished second.  Josh Hamilton and Aaron Lopez both finished third while Austin Stevison and Tristan Blansit both claimed fifth.

There was no school on Monday as the team celebrated its latest state title on President's Day.  And they didn't have a practice on Tuesday, although Yost was busy collecting uniforms from his team members once the school day had ended.

Most were really proud to be part of a team that had such incredible success. 

"We did really well this year.  Overall, I'm happy with how it turned out," said Sean Von Potts, a senior who was the 170-pounder for the Blue Raiders.

"This was probably my best year ever as a wrestler as we were on a roll and just totally dominated," Von Potts suggested.

Oleg Stukanov was another senior who was a tough guy to beat at 182.  He had a tough final tournament and didn't medal, but he was still happy to be part of a winning team.

"I think I had a pretty good season.  I made a few mistakes at the state tournament and I had a bad draw.  I got two of the best kids right at the start and I lost my last match in overtime.

"This has been my best year, even though I had a bad ending.  The state duals were my favorite part," he added.

Lopez was a state champion in 2011, but didn't wrestle last year while dealing with the pain of his mother's death.  He came back stronger than ever this year.

"We got good results and it was wonderful," he smiled when thinking back on the two weekends at the Williamson County Agricultural Expo Center.

"Hard work pays off and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.  I just tried to have fun and to enjoy the experience, but it's something I'll really miss in the future.  I never thought it would end like this, but it was an experience I'll never forget," Lopez nodded.

DeBien is a 15-year-old sophomore who just won his second state title.  He moved up to 113 pounds after winning at 106 last year.  He's rock solid who may be the strongest member of the team, pound for pound.

"I only lost three matches this year and I grew from each of them.  I just want to be the best I can be and I think I'm getting better every year.

"Our finals match in the state duals was awesome.  Getting pin after pin was incredible.  Being a part of this team has been great and I wouldn't think of wrestling for anyone else," DeBien said.

Oliver was another state champ who really didn't get started until the end of December as he was dealing with bad knees and a bulging disc in his neck.

"That was my second time in the finals and I wasn't as nervous as I was the first time.  I had a lot on the line as my father was a state champion at Howard.  I think that was the first time I had ever seen him cry, but that was a special moment for us both.

"As far as the state duals were concerned, we've never gotten so fired up for a dual meet," Oliver recalled.

Haden Hamilton had been dreaming of winning a state title for a long time.  Claiming first place couldn't have come at a better time.

"It's a great feeling for me to be a state champion and for our team to win too.  That's been my biggest goal since I was in the second grade and it couldn't have been more perfect.

"What a great way to end my career.  I was more confident than I had ever been before as i felt calm and well prepared.  I just wanted to stick with the stuff I'm good at.  It turned out well," he nodded.

Joel Simpkins was another senior who paid his dues for several years.  Simpkins got hurt in one of his early matches and that ended his season prematurely.

"We had a great season as nobody could hang with us at the end," Simpkins said matter of factly.

"I had a pretty good season.  I was sort of down when I got hurt, but it was cool watching the rest of the team do so well," he recalled.

Eric Phillips is now an assistant coach.  He was the head coach in 2011 when the Blue Raiders shocked everyone by winning the state title after not qualifying for the state duals.

"We had a lot of fun this year and it was a whole lot less stressful for me not being the head coach.  All I had to do was just show up and coach.  I let coach Yost handle all of the details.

"In 2011, we weren't supposed to win, but this year, we felt like we had the best team in the tournament.  We had to keep our kids motivated and to keep doing what we were capable of doing.  I'm highly intense, but Jake keeps me on an even keel most of the time," Phillips laughed.

Yost was in the right place at the right time.

"It was pretty enjoyable, but I'm a very fortunate person to be able to step into a situation like I did.  Everything was already in place.  All I had to do was keep us on course.

"A state tournament rarely turns out like you expect as there are always upsets and pleasant surprises.  I was pleased as our guys did an outstanding job all year.  They bought into what we were trying to teach.

"We have a bunch of quality kids returning next year, including five medalists.  We're expecting a lot out of them," Yost concluded.

The 2012-13 high school wrestling season is in the books, but what a great season it was for the Cleveland Blue Raiders.

It's very unlikely that they will be able to dominate like they did this year, but who knows?

They'll certainly be the team to beat when the season begins in November.

(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@comcast.net



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