In the third year of the school’s wrestling program, Conway High coach Ray Sessions has his sights set on a state 6A-7A championship.
The Wampus Cats go into the state high school wrestling championships this weekend at Arkansas-Little Rock’s Jack Stephens Center having won 26 dual matches in a row and not having lost a dual match since Dec. 11.
Sessions predicts the team championship will be a tight competition among Conway, Rogers Heritage, Little Rock Central and Fayetteville. “And in no particular order,” Sessions said. “I can see any of those teams finishing in any of the top four spots. It will come down to matchups and lots of variables.”
Regardless of the finish, Sessions points with pride in the record of the still-fledgling program.
“I told the team they can’t take 26 straight dual match victories away from us, no matter what happens this weekend,” Sessions said. “We have already established ourselves as one of the top teams in the state. I told our team it’s like the New England Patriots going 18-0 in the regular season a three years ago. They lost the Super Bowl but there was no argument about who had the best team.”
The Cats have only one wrestler who enters the competition with a losing record but Sessions consider’s T.J.Ruth’s 17-23 mark at 135 pounds extremely deceptive becasue the sophomore wrestler in 10-4 in his last 14 matches and finished fourth in the 7A Central tournament.
Sessions considers he has serious state contenders for individual crown in several classifications. One of them is senior Jaxson Myers, who is 36-2 at 140 pounds. He and Russellville’s Henry Reyes have seemingly separated themselves as the topo two in that division. Myers is 1-2 this year against Reyes but lost the most recent match in overtime with to a takedown in the final seconds. “If they in the finals, which they should, it will be the best match of the tournament,” Sessions said. “If you want to see how exciting wrestling can be, this could be the match to see.”
Junior Corven Alexander enters the tournament as the top seed at 145 pounds with a 36-1 record and has dominated his classification this year. Sophomore Conor Lusby is the top seed at 119 pounds and his twin brother, Elliot (30-6) is the No. 4 seed at 125 pounds but has handed Cabot’s Tyler Kurz one of his two losses.
Senior Camaran Azumara is 18-1 at 171 pounds. Senior Hal Hoggard is seeded second at 285 pounds but has lost in sudden-death overtime to top seed Giovanni Negrete of Fayetteville.
The team competition is scored a a points system with a wrestler getting two points for advancing, two points for a pin, 1 1/2 for a technical pin (being ahead by 15 points) and one point for a decision — a maximum of four points a match. Byes in the various brackets are selected by randon draw, so a wrestler who receives a bye will not necessarily go against a lesser opponent in his first match, but must win that match to receive the points for the first-round bye match.
“Our team and Fayetteville are very similar in makeup and philosophy,” Sessions said. “We both have several football playes on the team and we both try to be physical and aggressive and attack. We are probably not going to win every year but we are trying to develop the reputation that win, lose or draw, when you wrestle us, Conay is gonna bring it and we do not intend to be a pushover in any classification.”
Here are capsules breakdowns of the Conway entries in the weight classifications:
Connor Aist, No. 6 seed, 103 pounds (18-7: “One of the best surprises of the season,” said Session. “He’s got a chance to go higher than his seed and I think it’s quite an achievement for how far he’s come to be a No. 6 seed as a ninth-grader.”
Dylan Watts, No. 6 seed, 112 pounds (16-9): He broke a hand in his first practice and was out until Jan. 15. He’s just now getting back into form. He’s a dangerous wrestler in a wide-open field.
Connor Lusby, No. 1 seed, 119 pounds (29-7): No. 2 seed Robert Lewis of Bentonville eliminated him last year. Lusby, a sophomore, has defeated him this year in a tournament at CAC. It’s a tough, competitive division, particularly among the top five spots.
Elliot Lusby, No. 4 seed, 125 pounds (30-6): Connor’s twin brother defeated Tyler Kurz of Cabot (19-2, and the No. 1 seed) in the CAC tourney. “He could easily be a No. 1 seed here,” Sessions said.
Tanner Branscum, No. 5 seed, 130 pounds (17-10): The sophomore placed second in the conference and “he’s a real wild car for us,” Sessions said. “If he does well, it gives us a good chance to win.” The top seed in his division is Tanner Mann of Little Rock Central (31-0) whom Sessions considers the best wrestler in the state.
T.J. Ruth, unseeded, 135 pounds (17-23): He is 10-4 in his last 14 matches. “He finished fourth in the conference and could have easily finished third,” Sessions said. “He has no pressure, and he won’t be a pushover.”
Jaxson Myers, No. 2 seed, 140 pounds (36-2): Sessions thinks the senior will become one of Conway’s first individual state champions. He and Henry Reyes of Russellville have separated themselves as the top wrestlers in this category. In their last match, Reyes won in overtime on a last-season takedown. “If they meet again, which they probably will, it will be the best match of the tournament,” Sessions said.
Corven Alexander, No. 1 seed, 140 pounds (36-1): The junior’s only loss was to Tyler Mann of Central (second seeded in the division) by a 9-8 decision in overtime in the first match of the season. None of his other matches has been close and he has wrestled Mann twice since them, pinning him twice.
Morgan Shiew, No. 6 seed, 152 pounds (26-10): He defeated top seed Cameron Baker of Fayetteville by pin in their only meeting. “He’s another wild card,” said Sessions. “He’s wrestling with confidence and has the skills to beat anybody in this division.”
Ryan Ennis, No. 5 seed, 160 pounds (24-12): He’s a substitute for Skylar Thompson, who was injured in the conference tournament. “It’s a tribute when your second-best wrestler in this classification gets a No. 5 seed,” Sessions said. The 10th-grader is team captain. “Nobody has more heart or pride in this program than Ryan Ennis,” Session said. “Jaxson Myers chose him as his training partner and that says a lot.”
Camaran Azumara, No. 2 seed, 171 pounds (18-1): He has beaten all the returning seeded wrestlers. His only loss was an 189 pounds in a preseason tournament. “He went up against a much-heavier wrestler and the guy had a heck of a time beating him,” Sessions said.
Trent Schulthies, unseeded, 189 pounds (19-10): Another wild card capable of beating the top seeds. He’s 6-1 in his last seven matches.
David Fulford, No. 6 seed, 215 pounds (18-6): The conference champion in this classification. Fulford has avenged two of his losses this season and lost a tight match to top seed and undefeated Devon Bowers of Fayetteville in an earlier tournament. “I made a strategic decision that cost him that match,” Sessions said. “I did not have enough confidence in him at that point. I have no doubt David could beat Bowers if they wrestle again.”
Hal Hoggard, No. 2 seed, 285 pounds (25-2): His two losses were doubt in sudden-death overtime to top seed Gionvanni Negrete of Fayetteville. “He has the skills,” Sessions said. “If he wrestles like he is capable, nobody can beat him.”