SPORTS >>2nd state meet gets underway
Leader sports editor
Brandon Jay isn’t afraid to put the pressure of expectations on Cody Ealy.
Ealy, who moved to Cabot from Wisconsin just before wrestling season began, will be among 50 area wrestlers — including 13
Panthers — vying for state titles this weekend at the Class 5-6-7 state wrestling meet.
Matches begin on Friday afternoon and conclude on Saturday evening at the Jack Stephens Center on the campus of Arkansas-Little Rock.
Ealy is listed among 13 Gold Star wrestlers who will take to the mat this weekend. A Gold Starwrestler is one who has a record of 10-0 or better. Dan Willingham of Searcy is the other area Gold Star wrestler.
Jay, the Panther wrestling coach, calls Ealy, who has racked up an 11-0 record at the 125-pound division, heads and shoulders above every one else.
“It was real lucky on our part that he moved in right after football and picked it right up,” Jay said. “He just has lots of experience. When he gets on the mat, he knows exactly what he’s doing and has all the moves down.
“We have to get him to polish his techniques a little. But his mat presence, well, if he doesn’t win state, it would be real surprising. No one’s even come close to pinning him or pointing him.”
Jacksonville, North Pulaski, Sylvan Hills, Beebe and Searcy will also be represented at the state meet.
Searcy also has 12 wrestlers among the 14 weight divisions, led by Gold Star wrestler Dan Willingham, who will put his 13-0 record on the line.
After those two schools, North Pulaski is next with 10 wrestlers, while Beebe and Sylvan Hills will send six apiece. Jacksonville has three.
North Pulaski coach Tony Mongno has a pair of wrestlers he’s pinning his hopes on, and one of those is his daughter Moriah Mongno, who has put together an 8-3 record at the 103-pound division. Mogno thinks Moriah may be the only girls represented at the meet, though he says he knows of other girls around the state who competed during the regular season.
“Her strength is, she’s just a technical wrestler,” he said.
“Obviously, she’s not going to be as strong as the others, but she’s ahead of some of the other wrestlers by leaps and bounds when it comes to technique.
“They don’t know how to react to her. She’s an unorthodox wrestler, but she makes it work for her.”
Jonathan Buzzitta may have the best chance of all the Falcons to place this weekend. Buzzitta is seeded fifth in the 119-pound division and has put together a 7-1 record. His biggest strength, Buzzitta said, is his attitude.
“He’s just a diehard,” Mongno said. “He will never accept a bad position. His physical conditioning is also a strength, but that attitude he has is a huge part of this sport. You can’t teach it.”
Mongno puts Ryan Clark (145), Xavier Brown (160), Zac Roberts (171) and Jacob Sowell (135) among other Falcons who could shine on Saturday.
While North Pulaski doesn’t field a large enough team to threaten for a team title, such is not the case for Cabot. Jay said it may be a long shot, especially with one of the weight divisions empty due to injury, but he’s hardly counting them out. And he’s using a little psychology to the mix.
“They saw some story that said Little Rock Central, Fayetteville and Bentonville would be battling it out for No. 1,” Jay said. “And they never mentioned our guys. All of [Cabot’s wrestlers] have more experience. We think they’re a lot mentally tougher because of football, and they know how to work.
“That kind of ticked them off. I told them, ‘No one even cares about you.’”
Ninth-grader Chavin Scales in the 112-pound division is another wrestler Jay is high on, saying he has incredible mat presence. Technique-wise, Jay added, it’s hard to tell Scales is a ninth grader.
“And there’s no one stronger at 119,” he said. “He squats 255 and is just loaded with muscle. He’s very aggressive.”
L.J. Tarrant (275) lost his only match this year to the top seed at state, Nick Stewart of Bentonville. Jay said he thinks Tarrant has a chance this weekend.
“We don’t like to make excuses, but when L.J. lost to him, he was probably only around 70 percent,” Jay said.
“L.J. had just wrestled a JV match and had a sprained ankle. We expect him to go far this weekend.”
Others Jay thinks could make some noise for Cabot are 140-pounder Mitch Leonard, who he calls “one of the strongest at that weight in the state,” and ninth grader Seth Bell, who is moving down to 145 from 152 and has compiled a 10-2 record.
“We have a real young team,” Jay said. “I expect a lot of these guys to be phenomenal as seniors. I think we’re still two years away from competing for [a state title] every single year.”
Though Searcy figures not to contend for a state title this year, the Lions have one of the better wrestlers in Willingham. He is the son of two-time Oklahoma State All-American wrestler Randy Willingham.
Willingham is seeded No. 2 in the 135-pound division behind Fayetteville’s Cappy Leaf, but Searcy coach Mike Bush likes Willingham’s chances.
“He comes from a talent-rich wrestling family,” Bush said. “He grew up with it. He definitely has a chance.”
Bush also has two freshman who have shined in Searcy’s first year of wrestling. Jonathan Apple is undefeated, including a win over Mountain Home, when he wrestled up at the 112 division. He also has a win against Cabot and is 8-0.
Freshman Aaron Sweet is 11-3 at the 171-pound division. Another youngster, sophomore, John Reid, has impressed Bush. Reid is 11-3 at the 215 division.
“He’s probably a long shot,” Bush said. “He’s not as aggressive as he needs to be, but he finds a way to win.
“We’re really excited to get up there and see how we can do.”