Mat Jackets finish 2nd at 2015-16 State Duals
You know the saying: What a difference a year makes. Well, that was true for the Woodford County High School wrestling team on Saturday, Jan. 30, at the State Duals, which were held at Ryle High School. After not even qualifying for the State Duals last year, the Mat Jackets not only qualified for the tournament this year, but made it to the championship dual against Oldham County and brought home a second-place finish. What was even more impressive was that Woodford defeated two very tough, highly-ranked teams in the tournament to reach the final: Johnson Central, the No. 1 tournament seed that came into the event undefeated; and Trinity, the No. 4 tournament seed and No. 2 ranked team in the state. “I’m very happy with my boys. We did a great job,” said Woodford head coach Rusty Parks Jr. “I couldn’t have asked for more. Obviously, we would have liked to come home with that first-place trophy, but can’t bat an eye that we took second place. … To be state (dual) runner up the year after not qualifying is huge. That shows the turnaround of what our coaching staff has done, of what our wrestlers have done.” In the final standings, Oldham County finished first, Woodford was second, Trinity finished third and Meade County was fourth. The finish for Woodford in this year’s State Duals is the highest since 2005, when they won it, but did not win the state title. They also finished second in the State Duals in 2006, when they also won the state championship. Woodford had four duals in this year’s tournament. They opened the day against McCracken County and defeated them handily. “We beat them 78-3. That wasn’t close,” said Parks. “They won one match. We won 13 of 14 against them, which is pretty good. But, they’re a tough team to make it to state dual. They have to be.” In their next dual they faced Johnson Central, which was the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Woodford, one of the top-ranked teams in the state, was not seeded in the tournament because they finished second in the Sectional Duals on Jan. 16 to Oldham County. Against Johnson Central, who came into the tournament undefeated, Woodford had to battle hard, and while it was tough going early in the dual, once the Mat Jackets’ lightweights hit the mat, Woodford went on to get the win, 46-31. “We showed up against them,” said Parks. “We knew it was going to be a tough one, but my kids showed up. They fought, they wrestled hard and they got the big win there to knock them out and to advance to the semifinal round. “(Johnson Central’s) a very tough team in the upper weights, but I knew once we got to the lightweights, we’d start rolling. They were up on us the majority of the dual, until our lightweights started going. Then we were able to beat them.” With that win, Woodford advanced to the semifinals, where they faced the No. 4-tournament seed, Trinity, a team that was ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll. In the dual, Woodford had to use a little strategy, as they moved a couple wrestlers up a weight class to try and get the win. One of those wrestlers was Joey Roberts, who usually wrestles at 132 pounds. For this match, he was bumped up to 138 pounds and he responded and got a pin. The other wrestler moved up was Emir Bernabe, who usually wrestles at 190 pounds. He was bumped up to 220 pounds and went out on the mat and got a pin. With those two key wins, along with the success of the other Mat Jackets in the dual, Woodford was able to pull out a very close dual, 36-31. “When it comes to a dual meet, that’s the strategic part,” said Parks. “(It) would be dumb to wrestle my best kids against their best kids because those are 50-50 matches. Why not be sure and bump my guys up and know that they can get the pins, and they both did. They both made me look like a genius, and it wasn’t even me, it was the whole coaching staff that made great decisions. We really did awesome against Trinity.” For Woodford, getting those two big wins over Johnson Central and Trinity was a huge accomplishment for the day. Something, not many other teams thought they would be able to accomplish. “Nobody thought we were going to beat (Johnson Central and Trinity). Nobody,” said Parks. “So, that was huge for us to come unseeded all the way out … to the final. That was pretty big for us.” With the win over Trinity, Woodford advanced to the final where they faced a familiar foe in Oldham County. A few weeks ago on Saturday, Jan. 16, Woodford lost to Oldham County in the Sectional Duals and were looking to avenge that defeat. But, on this day, the result was the same, as Woodford lost 48-25. “We ran into our nemesis,” said Parks. “We could have done a lot better against Oldham County. They beat us 48-25 in the final, (which) is way worse than (how they beat us) at Sectional Duals. We lost by 10 at Sectional Duals; this time we go and lose by 23 points. That was tough. … That’s the tough thing about State Duals. You’ve got to be ready to wrestle tough duals all day long. We did not do so in the finals. “… (But), Oldham County is a fierce competitor. A lot of respect for their coaching staff, a lot of respect for their wrestlers. They beat us fair and square.” Individually, Woodford had four wrestlers go undefeated in their matches in the tournament: Chase Yost at 106 pounds, Tylan Tucker at 113 pounds, Tucker Hurst at 120 pounds and Joey Roberts at 132 pounds. “The lightweights carried us this weekend,” said Parks. “Everybody stepped up big. Everybody did a good job, but our lightweights carried us. Four out of our first five weight classes going undefeated on the day, 4-0, is huge. “Yost gets the ball rolling, Tylan gets the momentum going more, Hurst drops the hammer usually, and Roberts is right there to clean it up for us. I don’t know what words I can use for our lightweights except – ‘Tough.’” One big surprise in the tournament happened with one of Woodford’s top wresters, Max Andreoni, who wrestles at 160 pounds and was feeling under the weather all day long. In the tournament, the junior, who is ranked No. 1 in the state in his weight class, suffered his first two losses of the season, though one was by disqualification due to an illegal move. While Andreoni was upset about those two losses, Parks believes he will come back and be stronger than ever. According to Parks, the “monkey” is off his back now with the pressure of going for an undefeated season. He just needs to get back to work and refocus on his goals. “He still has the chance to win the state title in February,” said Parks, who truly believes Andreoni will win it all this year. “That is his goal and I know that’s what he’s going to come back to the room and do it.” The middle of the Woodford lineup, which includes Marik Black, Dermot Cunningham, Matthew Fallon and Gage Thompson, also did a good job in the tournament according to Parks, who was especially impressed by the performance of Fallon. “Matthew Fallon showed up huge for us,” said Parks. “He had the toughest day, weight-class-wise. He wrestled some studs. He wrestled the defending state champion (Ben Barton of Trinity). He wrestled the No. 5 kid in the state (from Oldham County). He wrestled them both to close matches.” Two other wrestlers Parks noted who had a good tournament were Michael Eldridge and Emir Bernabe. Eldridge finished 3-1 on the day, with his only loss coming in the Johnson Central dual against the No. 2-ranked wrestler in the state in his weight division. Bernabe also finished 3-1, with his loss coming in overtime in the Oldham County dual. As to the upper weight wrestlers – Andrew Varble, Jack Hill and Helio Reyes – Parks said, “Our upper weights definitely did a good job; there’s no doubt. Our upper weights definitely did their part. (They) got wins when they needed to get wins, and stayed off their backs. (They) did not give up pins like (they) had earlier in the year.” However, Parks noted that those three wrestlers still need to work a little harder over the next few weeks in preparation for the state tournament. “I want to see more out of those guys in the next couple weeks,” he said. “I want to see them work harder. That’s the key right now. Are they working as hard as they can, are they working as hard as they can to not leave any doubt?” While the wrestlers did all the work, Parks was also very happy with his coaching staff in the tournament, which help him out with everything from coaching to logistics to strategy to everything else. “Our coaching staff really helped us,” said Parks. “Ethan Miller, Coty Lewis, Robert Tucker, Corey Cardwell. They really helped me out big time. It was a team thing. Everybody brought something to the table. Whether it was my intensity, Ethan Miller’s wrestling knowledge, Coty Lewis’s wrestling knowledge, Ethan Miller’s wrestling knowledge, or Robert and Corey’s strategic knowledge – those guys are awesome when it comes to strategizing and stuff like that. “Our coaching staff really stepped along with the boys. Yes, the boys are the ones that do the work out there on the mat and get the wins for us, but at the same time, our coaches had them prepared.” Next up, Woodford travels to North Oldham High School in Louisville on Saturday, Feb. 6, for the Mustang Classic at 10 a.m.