Wednesday, February 24, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Two Cabot wrestlers win state

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot wrestling team, because of injuries, was shorthanded coming into Friday’s and Saturday’s state tournament at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock, but the Panthers battled through those injuries and adversities to finish sixth overall out of the 23 teams competing in the Class 6A-7A Division.

A northwest school has claimed the top spot in the 6A-7A Division the last two years.

Rogers High won last year’s state tournament, but Springdale Har-Ber finished first this year with a total of 258.5 team points.

Har-Ber was the only school in the 6A-7A Division to eclipse 200 points. Bentonville placed second in the team standings with 195 points. Catholic High was third with 185 points. Rogers Heritage was fourth with 182.5 points.

Searcy’s 161.5 points was good for fifth place, and Cabot edged Greenwood, 152-149, to claim the sixth spot. Cabot finished fourth at last year’s state tournament, and was hoping for an even higher finish this year, but injuries have slowed the Panthers in recent weeks.

“We brought 11 wrestlers,” said Cabot coach David Payne, “two of those 11 were last-minute changes. We had to put some JV guys in with the injuries. So, we brought nine varsity wrestlers and five of those nine medaled. We had two state champions, one finished second and two finished fourth.

“To finish sixth with basically nine guys, you know, it’s not bad.”

The two state champions for Cabot are senior Dillan Frienser (32-0) and junior Harris Sutton (28-3). Friesner won the 132-pound weight class with a technical fall over Har-Ber’s Jackson Nichols 3:44 into the championship match. Friesner dominated the match prior to the fall. He was up 18-3 before the winning fall.

Friesner, a 3.9 student who’s already signed to wrestle at the University of Illinois in the fall, faced Nichols at the dual state championships in Van Buren a few weeks ago and won that match by pin in the second round as well.

“I just wanted to go wrestle my match,” said Friesner of his approach entering Saturday’s final. “I was going to do what I do whether he was different or not. I just wanted to go wrestle how I wrestle.”

Friesner was on a different level than the competition he faced throughout his undefeated senior season. He moved to Cabot from Tennessee, where he won a state championship as a sophomore in 2014. He said the amount of work and dedication he put into this season had a lot to do with his success throughout the year.

“This is what I really, really hoped for and I wanted it bad,” Friesner said, “but I feel like the work I did helped me get to where I was. If you would’ve asked me this at the beginning of the year, I would’ve said I was surprised, but with all the work I’ve done, I feel that I’ve done enough work that it should’ve happened.”

Sutton’s 220-pound championship match was much more competitive. It even took an extra round to determine the winner. He was tied at 2-2 with Har-Ber’s Jacob Robertson at the end of the third round, and got the match-winning takedown in the extra round to win by sudden victory, with an official score of 4-2.

“Oh, it feels amazing,” said Sutton of being a state champion.

Sutton faced Robertson earlier in the season and that match also went to the overtime round, but Robertson was the one that came out on top in their first meeting. Sutton said the difference in Saturday’s 220-pound final was that he brought a more aggressive approach.

“Coming into this one, I knew he had a very aggressive snap and I just went a lot harder than I did the first time,” Sutton said, “just way more aggressive.”

Payne added that Sutton, along with the rest of the Panthers’ wrestlers, did a great job of making key adjustments during their matches.

“Harris did a great job of adjusting and making adjustments throughout the match,” Payne said. “He and really all of them throughout the weekend did a really good job of listening and making adjustments on the fly.

“There’s not really a timeout or a change of possession where we can bring them to the sideline and take a break, there’s not a buddy that’s going to do it for you, you’ve got to be able to make adjustments while you’re still going and they did a really good job this weekend of doing that, especially our guys that were real successful.

“Harris, the match went exactly the way it did the first time. He really dug down and really practiced those short-timed shots and shot defenses and it paid off. He did what he needed to do and did a great job.”

Payne also had plenty of praise for his 132-pound state champion.

“Dillan is on another level,” Payne said. “He’s one of those kids that are nice to have because he makes you look really good and you don’t really have to do a whole lot. He’s fun to watch. As stressful as Harris’ match was, that’s how pleasurable it is to watch not only all of them, but especially Dillan.

“He does things you can’t teach, you can’t coach. I sit back so many times when I watch him wrestle and just tell myself, ‘wow.’”

Frienser’s championship tournament run earned Cabot a team-high 30 points and Sutton’s championship performance earned 28. Austin Dye (31-2) was the next-highest finisher for Cabot, earning a second-place finish in the 145-pound division, which earned the team 25.50 points.

With that finish, Dye, along with Friesner and Sutton, earned All-State honors. The Panthers also had two fourth-place finishers Saturday. Cameron Pitchford (24-5) placed fourth in the 126-pound weight class and Nate Bonilla (20-7) finished fourth in the 182-pound class.

Bonilla racked up 23.50 points for the Panthers and Pitchford’s tournament run was good for 21.