Norton strikes gold in 3-2-1A
By KLINT SPILLER
Norton High School wanted to be conspicuous heading into the state tournament. They shut themselves down to the media and wanted to take care of business.
There was nothing conspicuous about the Bluejays at the Class 3-2-1A state wrestling tournament, as Norton won its 12th state championship Saturday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Bolstered by a strong performance at its home regional, Norton had nine qualifiers at the state tournament, and they all did well.
Every Bluejay won a match and eight placed, as Norton won with 129.5 team points, defeating second-place Hoxie by 32.5.
"We had a lot of underclassmen step up," said Norton's lone state champion, 132-pound senior John Risewick. "We came to state prepared doing what we have been doing. We tried to do the same stuff."
Three Norton wrestlers finished in the finals, but Risewick was the lone champion. He won his second state title of his career, but it was his first since his freshman season.
"I've been waiting to get it," Risewick said. "To get back on top, it's awesome."
Risewick battled back from an early deficit and defeated Oberlin-Decatur Community junior Dayton Dreher by an 8-7 decision.
It was a tightly contested match that left Risewick with a bloody mouth. He bit his tongue in the first period.
"It feels awesome to get the second one finally," he said. "It's what I was working for."
Sophomore Caysean Campbell (29-13), a first-year qualifier, made it to the 106-pound title match, but lost 5-3 to Phillipsburg senior Kyle Witmer.
Norton's 126-pound junior Alec Hager (30-8) also finished as a state runner-up, losing to undefeated Hoisington junior Brandon Ball by a 10-2 major decision.
Other top finishes for Norton included junior Branson Additon (29-19), fourth at 120 pounds; Cody Ellis (25-9), fourth at 145 pounds; Lucas Engel (24-13) fourth at 220 pounds; Ethan Ross (32-9), fifth at 113 pounds; and Jared Tallent (33-16), sixth at 138 pounds.
It was a resurgent performance for Norton. The Bluejays won back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011, but tied for 16th last season.
Risewick said the squad took a different approach to this season, taking an approach from his sophomore season and trying to forget about past accomplishments.
"My sophomore year in the wrestling room, we turned around all the pictures to forget about the past," Risewick said. "We did that again (this season)."
Limited numbers, Hoxie makes run
Hoxie couldn't have asked for much more from its wrestlers.
The smallest school in the top 12, Hoxie sent five wrestlers to state, all seniors, and left with three champions and a third-place finish. The Indians maximized their output, but still finished second to Norton.
"We didn't drop a match today, which is pretty neat," said Hoxie head coach Mike Porsch. "That doesn't happen the second day of the state tournament."
Hoxie was the only team with three individual champions.
Calvin Ochs (43-0) capped his undefeated season with a first-period pin in the state championship match against Plainville junior Dylan Wiesner -- a perfect finish to a perfect season.
It was his second state championship and fourth trip to the state championship match.
"Most of the matches, I go out and flow," Ochs said. "This match, I didn't really have anything set in my mind. I just did what came to me, and it worked out."
Brandon Salmans (35-3) won the 195-pound weight class with a 16-4 major decision against Plainville senior Harrison Gilliland (25-2).
It was the fifth time the two wrestlers had seen each other with all of their losses to each other.
Kane Washington won the 220-pound weight class with a 3-2 decision against Douglass senior Ryker Greenbaum. Washington got a takedown with a minute to go and didn't allow Greenbaum to come back.
"I've been working hard all summer," Washington said. "I kind of expected (to accomplish this). This was the end goal, to win state, so I wasn't too surprised."
Witmer's first medal: Gold
Phillipsburg 106-pound senior Kyle Witmer said he dreamed of competing in the state championship match, but he never thought he'd actually be there.
Prior to his senior year, his one state appearance was during his sophomore season, and he didn't win a match there.
But on Saturday, Witmer (38-6) achieved what he didn't think was possible. He lived his dream and won the state championship at 106 pounds.
"I had a pit in my stomach from last year, getting beat out before regionals," Witmer said. "I knew I had to do better this year. I just wrestled my heart out and gave it all I could."
Witmer defeated Norton sophomore Caysean Campell in the championship match by a 5-3 decision.
Heading into the match, Witmer was 3-1 against Campbell this season, but he said that didn't cause him to overlook Campbell.
"I felt kind of confident, but then again, it's still a match and he's still a worthy opponent," Witmer said. "You just have got to prepare the same for every match."
Younger cracks 40 wins
Ellis 152-pound senior Gage Younger couldn't make it through eventual state champion Halstead senior Alex Thibault of Halstead on the frontside, but he made up for it by fighting his way through the backside to get third place -- his best finish.
Younger capped a solid career at Ellis with a 40-win season. He finished 41-3 and locked up his best finish at the state meet. He got fourth as a sophomore and fifth as a junior, and his best win total before this was 30.
Younger lost to Thibault by a 6-2 decision in the quarterfinals. If he would have won his regional tournament, he would have been on the opposite side of the bracket.
"I had the toughest kids in the quarterfinals," Younger said. "I kind of screwed that one up at regionals, but to come back and win all my matches on the backside, I'm pretty happy."