While the spotlight focused on the big championship matches, Greenbrier won its second straight 1A-6A state wrestling title with the undercard.
The Panthers edged Pulaski Academy, which had some of the state’s best wrestlers at the top of the card, 299-295, in the event last weekend at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock. Greenbrier qualified for the final rounds in 13 of 14 weight classifications and had two first-place finishes, six seconds, three thirds, one fourth and one sixth.
Greenbrier would probably had qualified in all weight divisions had not Justin Watson, who had a chance to make the top six at 160 pounds, not gotten sick on the day of the tournament and was forced to withdraw.
"I told the PA coach before the tournament that it was going to come down to five or 10 points one way or another between us," said Greenbrier coach Jayson Howard. "Pulaski Academy had a lot of horses. We had a lot of depth."
The championship actually came down to Greenbrier’s Grayson Powell winning a 13-6 decision oveer Thomas Wheelis of PA at 182 pounds.
"That sealed it," said Howard. "We were looking at the possible numbers before the finals and we thought we had to have that match to have a shot at the championship. All of the guys did that part but those third-place points made the difference."
Greenbrier finished sixth in 2013, fourth in 2014, second in 2015 before winning its division last year.
"We just have a lot of hard-working guys who knew what they had to do and did it," Howard said. "And we did it as a team. Not everybody had to win a state championship. But everybody had to get as many points as they could for the team. I consider this a team sport even though you have individual champions."
Howard said the key to Greenbrier’s rise to a state power has been built on developing a strong middle school program.
"I began recruiting in the seventh- and eighth-grade and then tried to keep interest and develop technique," he said. "If you don’t have some kind of feeder program at the middle school level, success is not sustainable.
"Wrestling in the state is getting a lot tougher. You naturally have some good athletes and that can go a long way. But if the guys don’t know technique, just athletic ability won’t sustain them. You’ve got to have a system in place."
Greenbrier’s Chris Whisenant (113 pounds) and Rylan Howard (152 pounds) became two-time state champions, both as juniors.
Conway finished eighth in the 6A-7A division. Mason Perrigo had the Cats’ best finish, taking third at 152 pounds.
Team: 1. Greenbrier, 299; 2. Pulaski Academy, 295
106 pounds: 2. Sean Harlan (lost 11-2 decision to Jacob Beene of Maumelle).
113 pounds: 1. Chris Whisenant (won 6-4 decision over Rhodney Phillips, Glen Rose)
120 pounds: 3. Aaron Davis (won 5-4 decision over Bridges Tomlinson, Hot Springs Lakeside)
126 pounds: 3. Brayden Howard (pin, Reggie Grant, Maumelle).
132 pounds: 2. Will Pittman (lost tech fall to Michael Crockett, Pulaski Academy)
138 pounds: 2. Matthew Wingham (lost 14-4 decision to Little Rock Christian)
145 pounds: 4. Daniel Symons (lost 9-2 decision to Karter Warner, Beebe)
152 pounds: 1. Rylan Howard (pin over Colton Burchard, Lakeside)
170 pounds: 2. Caleb Price (lost Tech fall to James Noel of PA
182 pounds: 3. Grayson Powell (won 13-6 decision over Thomas Wheelis of PA)
195 pounds: 6. Drew Clark (lost by pin to Judson Spellings of Lakeside)
220 pounds: 2. Drew McCoy (lost by pin to Dylan Johnson of Woodlawn)
285 pounds: 2. Landon Mazur (lost by 1-0 decision to Allen Amuimula of PA)
Team. 8. Conway, 117. Bentonville won the title with 256 points.
152 pounds: 3. Mason Perrigo (pin over Nathan Desler of Bentonville)
160 pounds: 5. Ben McKinney (6-2 decision over Dawson Scantling of Jacksonville)
195 pounds: 5. Dylan Williams (by injury forfeit by Quentin Anderson of Little Rock Central)
285 pounds: 4. Donald Joshua (lost in overtime to Alejandro Ramirez of Har-Ber)