Wrestling has always been good around these parts, but there has been a steady decline, with the exception of Fort Mill, over the last few seasons.
But those engines are beginning to rev up again and the mat action around here is about as good as you'll find anywhere.
Rock Hill, one of the top programs in the state, made a comeback this season under first-year coach Cain Beard. He said earlier in the season that he's had his eye on Rock Hill since he was a high school wrestler at East Gaston (N.C.) High.
When the job came open, Beard applied and made the administrators at Rock Hill look like geniuses. The Bearcats were 29-3 and second in Region 3-AAAA with a 6-1 record, making it back to the duals state championship, where they were easily handled by Summerville.
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Beard was named The Herald's All-Area Wrestling Coach of the Year.
"I am very humbled by this award,'' Beard said. "To be voted coach of the year by your peers is a high honor, and this makes me very proud.
"Wrestling is a sport that stands alone. I know of no other sport that demands more of the individuals' time, effort, commitment, physical capabilities and mental abilities. My life changed forever when I was eight years old and was introduced to wrestling. That day opened doors for me I couldn't have dreamed of.''
Applause has to go out to Eddie Cook at South Pointe, who in only the school's second varsity season, led his Stallions to third place in the region with a 5-2 record. He's done a masterful job of getting good athletes to come out for the team and molding them into good wrestlers.
And there's Chris Brock at Fort Mill, who has developed consistency in the Yellow Jackets' program. His team won the region title for the third straight season with a 7-0 record, and all that's missing is a state championship.
The Yellow Jackets beat Rock Hill 31-26 in the match for the region title, but two weeks later, Rock Hill turned the tables and earned a spot in the state championship with a 36-30 win.
It should came as no surprise that Cook and Brock wrestled at Rock Hill for former coach Jim Barnes. Brock was an assistant coach under Barnes before going to Fort Mill.
The telling sign this year came at the Class AAAA state individuals tournament two Saturdays ago at Irmo. Five of the 14 weight classes were won by The Herald-area wrestlers, and it was nearly six. More than one-third of the titles coming back up I-77 is hardly shabby.
So in the spirit of last year's The Herald All-Area Basketball Team, it's been decided those five should be the wrestlers of the year instead of just picking one. Fort Mill's starting hoops five got the same because the Yellow Jackets won their state championship as a team, with no big stars or stats.
It applies in wrestling because the following five young men have helped put the sport back on the map in this area.
Fort Mill's James Brotemarkle, who began wrestling in Pennsylvania, won his second straight title at 119 pounds.
"I was the only one from our team that made the championship round, but went in confident,'' Brotemarkle said. "I beat (Irmo's Kyle) Manross the week before at the Upper State, so I felt good about doing it again.''
Northwestern's Jared Williams finally broke through and won the title his senior season, claiming the crown at 125 pounds. Williams was fourth last year and said he's glad he won't have to worry anymore about winning the championship.
Clover's Zach Neubert, who was on the Blue Eagles' first team six years ago as a JV grappler, also rang up a title, taking gold at 160 pounds. He became Clover's first-ever state champion wrestler.
"I had wrestled the kid I beat in the championship and almost beat him,'' Neubert said. "He beat me by one point in the Upper State. I was having problems with my asthma that day, so I felt I'd win if we met again.''
The other two titles went to the "Battling Beck Brothers'' from Rock Hill, who became the second and third in their family to strike gold. Travis, the oldest, did it his senior season. Junior Chad did it this year at 135. Freshman Weston did it at 103 and finished with a 56-0 record.
It could have been three this year and fourth overall. Seth, Weston's twin, lost 2-1 and finished second at 112 pounds.
"It felt good to get us off to a good start in the championship round,'' Weston said. "It would have been great if all of us had won because we wrestle around the house every day.
"I feel bad for Seth because he was so close. He'll get his next year.''
The Herald-area wrestling state champs
103: Weston Beck (Rock Hill) pin Will James (Wando), 2nd
119: James Brotemarkle (Fort Mill) m.dec. Kyle Manross (Irmo) 11-2
125: Jared Williams (Northwestern) dec. Adam Kern (Mauldin) 7-5
135: Chad Beck (Rock Hill) dec. Wesley Dallas (Fort Dorchester) 6-5
160: Zach Neubert (Clover) m.dec. Thomas Speers (White Knoll) 14-5
• All-area team, profiles • 3D