Feb. 16, 2013 turned out to be a glorious day for veteran Charlotte Latin wrestling coach Richard Fletcher.
But it certainly didn’t start that way.
Through the early stages of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A championships at Arden’s Christ School, Fletcher was underwhelmed by his team’s performance.
For one thing, the Hawks didn’t resemble the focused squad that battled through the regular season and hadn’t lost a dual-team meet since November. Then there was the fact that Charlotte Latin’s top individual wrestlers were having trouble winning matches they were heavily favored to win.
But when it mattered most, the Hawks were at their best.
Six Charlotte Latin wrestlers stepped forth to earn spots in the finals of their weight divisions, and five of them emerged victorious, which helped the Hawks earn their second consecutive dual-team state championship.
Charlotte Latin’s five individual state champions were Billy McClelland (122 pounds), who defeated Providence Day’s Amit Naik, 5-0; Charlie Horvath (140), who pinned Westminster-Catawba’s Wes Sutton in 3 minutes, 2 seconds; Alex Julian (184), who pinned SouthLake’s Gant Allen in 5 minutes, 51 seconds; Sam Wilson (222), who pinned Providence Day’s Alex Pourlos in 1:46; and Toby Okwara (287), who pinned Providence Day’s Chike Ekwanu in 2:09.
Latin finished with 228 team points, ahead of runner-up Providence Day (197) and third-place SouthLake Christian (187).
“But honestly, it was all up in the air,” said Fletcher, who still seemed puzzled by his team’s slow start at the state meet. “It was a very close tournament between Providence Day, SouthLake Christian and ourselves up until the finals.
“I’ve never had a finals like this, where we had six kids in the finals and five of our kids won it. Three of them on paper were underdogs. Charlie Horvath was a fifth or sixth seed. Alex Julian was the three seed and he had to wrestle the No. 1 seed.
Billy McClelland, although a state champion last year, was wrestling a two-time state champion.
“And they all stepped up and won it,” Fletcher continued. “It was an awesome finals. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that excited in my coaching career.”
And it’s been a decorated career for Fletcher, who led the Hawks to their ninth state title in his 23rd year at the helm. In all, Charlotte Latin has taken home 15 state wrestling crowns, including three of the last four.
As has been the case all season, when Charlotte Latin amassed a 25-3 dual-team record, a number of Hawks made critical contributions. In addition to the five individual champions, Charlotte Latin’s Matthew Bredder was second at 162 pounds, Nick Boyd was third at 154, Zachary Carter was third at 197 pounds and Matt Borin placed fourth at 147 pounds.
“It really has been a team effort,” Fletcher said. “For example, we had one of our starting wrestlers (Bentley Dalton) tear something in his labrum in his shoulder, so he was out for the season. But West Osborn filled in for him. He had some really good tournaments, scored some points for us. And one of our guys, Zach Carter, won a final-round consolation match that started the ball rolling for us (at the state tournament). Even Matthew Bredder, who was the only finalist to not finish first, wrestled an amazing match; if he couldn’t win, he was not going to get pinned, and he really frustrated his opponent. He was all smiles after that.”
And although it took a while, Fletcher was all smiles by the end of the day.
“The funny thing is: I had been disappointed, and I got on our kids at the break,” Fletcher said with a chuckle. “So after the match, I told them, ‘I knew you guys had this potential, but you had to do it the hard way. But I’ll take it.’
“And they were thrilled. It was a phenomenal way to finish this season. I think it was about how hard our schedule was. They didn’t falter under the pressure.”