The Eastern Alamance High School wrestling squad opened its season this past week with a quad meet on Tuesday, November 23, as well as the team’s first individual tournament of the season over Thanksgiving weekend. The Eagles are returning two wrestlers - Ivan “Tommy” Benitez and Julian Rodriguez - who qualified for the 2021 NCHSAA 3A state finals, along with many other seasoned grapplers. Head coach Bruce Watson’s squad is optimistic that they can have a solid season this winter.
Following a season-opening quad meet at Eastern Guilford on November 23, the Eagles competed in their first team tournament of the season - the Jim Key Tournament at Southern Durham High School - on Saturday, November 27. The Eagles had ten wrestlers competing, and put forth a respectable showing, placing eighth out of 16 competing teams at the tournament. Eastern had one wrestler place second in his weight class, another place third, and two more place fourth.
Damien Beaver, wrestling at 152 pounds for the Eagles, gave EAHS their lone second place finish at Southern Durham. Beaver first pinned Holden George of Cape Fear in the first round (1:22) to move into the semifinals, and then defeated Landus Robertson of Jordan in an 8-2 decision to advance to the finals.
In the championship of his weight class, Beaver challenged Tristan Cotto of Wilmington Laney. While he fought hard, he was unable to prevail, as Cotto earned a 13-3 major decision victory to take first place. Despite the loss to Cotto, however, it was a strong performance by Beaver, giving him confidence heading into the bulk of Eastern’s regular season.
Benitez, Eastern’s 138-pound grappler, placed third for the Eagles in the tournament. He was dominant in his first two matches, pinning Orange’s Colton Jones just 23 seconds into the match, and then pinning Joshua Zacharias of Jordan at the 1:10 mark of the first round to advance into the semifinals.
Benitez then took on William Worley of Union Pines, who proved to be a tough opponent. The match went the full three rounds, but Benitez earned a 10-2 victory over Benitez, relegating Benitez to the third place match. Taking on Triston Younkin of Oxford Webb, Benitez once again took control and earned an early pin - 38 seconds into the first round - to claim third place.
Willfen Lopez, wrestling at 120 pounds for the Eagles, defeated Angel Perez of Person County in his opening match with a second round pin (2:18), but was pinned by Justin Vaysse of Franklinton in the second round (2:29) in the semifinal round. Moving into the third place match, Lopez was pinned by J.T. Erie of Union Pines in the third round (4:42) to finish fourth.
Although Mason Tanner was knocked into the loser’s round of the 126-pound bracket in his opening match, suffering a second round fall to Blake Hines of Corinth Holders, he had a solid run, winning back-to-back matches over Jacob Maynard of Jordan and Ryan Lewik of Riverside to move into the third place match. Tanner pinned both Maynard and Lewik in the first round - dropping Maynard at the 1:26 mark and Lewik at the 1:37 mark - to advance to a rematch against Hines in the third place match. Hines picked up a second straight win over Tanner - a pin at the 1:19 mark of the opening round - to give Tanner a fourth place finish.
Julian Rodriguez, participating in a crowded and talented field of 160-pound wrestlers, earned a bye in the opening round. He then pinned Dawson Travis of Cape Fear in the second round (3:15) to advance to a match against Owen Harshbarger of Wilmington Laney. It was a tough matchup for the 2021 state finalist, who suffered a 10-0 major defeat setback.
Rodriguez faced Brock Sullivan of Union Pines in the loser’s bracket, and the pair engaged into an epic battle, which went into extra time tied, 6-6. Unfortunately for Rodriguez, however, Sullivan earned two points in the extra period to claim an 8-6 win. Despite the setbacks, however, Rodriguez got solid experience against top competition, which should greatly help him as the season marches on.
Jackson Fulcher, Eastern’s 170-pound wrestler, got off to a promising start, earning a second round pin over Southern Durham’s Jordan McWilliams (2:16). Advancing into the quarterfinals, Fulcher ran into Elliot Hollis of Enloe, who pinned Fulcher in the first round (0:28). In the loser’s bracket, Fulcher was eliminated by William Bell of Franklinton in a first round pin (0:28).
Heavyweight (285 pounds) Hakim Thompson earned a first round bye, but was pinned by Wilmington Laney’s Corey Pollock in the first round (0:50). Thompson moved into the consolation semifinals with a 5-1 decision victory over Antonio Alston of Oxford Webb, but was eliminated by Landon Michael of Franklinton in a first round fall (1:46).
Carson Gardner, competing at 132 pounds for the Eagles, was knocked out of the winner’s bracket by Luke Fogleman of Riverside (pin at 1:07 of first round), but Gardner regrouped to pin Prime Smalls of Southern Durham in the early moments of the second round (2:09). Gardner was eliminated from the competition by George Kittrell of Oxford Webb with a first round pin (0:39).
Kaitlyn Watson represented the Eagles in the 106-pound weight class. After getting knocked into the loser’s bracket by Keaton Crawford of Union Pines by a first round fall (0:31), Watson engaged in a showdown with Sean Cason of Franklinton. Cason prevailed with a second round pin (2:35), to eliminate Watson from the tournament.
Eastern’s 145-pound wrestler, Jahzion Patterson, was knocked out of the winner’s bracket with a second round pin by Jordan’s Marcus Schultz (2:28), and was eliminated from the tournament by Joseph Vrabcak of Union Pines by a first round pin (0:46).
The Eagles return to the mat on Wednesday night with a key home matchup against arch rival Western Alamance in Mebane, followed by an appearance at Orange High School for another tournament on Friday and Saturday.