For about the last week, A.J. Leitten has worn a bandage around his head when wrestling. The Fort Mill sophomore had an operation to fix his cauliflower ear, but a teammate popped the ear in practice and it swelled up. Not pretty.
In stark contrast was Leitten’s beautiful performance last weekend at the Southern Slam wrestling tournament, hosted by Greenville’s Eastside High School. Leitten, who earned All-American status at the High School Nationals in March, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler after winning three of his four matches by pin and scoring a 16-1 tech fall in the other. In the final, Leitten, who was seeded No. 1, pinned Archer (Ga.) grappler Alex Standridge early in the third period.
“I could feel that he was stronger than me but I was trying to start working in slowly, not rush anything, but then I caught the cradle and finished it,” said Leitten. “It felt good.”
Monday before practice it didn’t seem like a big deal to Leitten, who was goofy and grinning before and during a brief interview with a reporter.
“I’m certainly not surprised,” said Fort Mill coach Chris Brock. “A.J. is a very talented kid and he works hard at the sport. He puts in a lot of time during the season, outside the season. He is definitely among the top wrestlers in the nation.”
Leitten finished second in the state last season as a freshman, a great finish for most kids in their rookie season of varsity wrestling.
“It was a disappointment,” said Brock, “because we felt like he should have and could have won it. But those little setbacks tend to motivate you. I think he is a little more competitive, much more confident this year as opposed to last.”
“I want the state title this year,” Leitten said. “It kind of wounded me, it hurt. I want the state title.”
Leitten wasn’t the only local weight class champion at the Southern Slam. Rock Hill’s Stephen Chesney won the 195-pound championship, holding off Mauldin’s Steven Schultz 2-1.
Rock Hill led local teams in finishing sixth in the team standings, while South Pointe placed eighth, the highest finish for a 3A team. Fort Mill took 14th, Nation Ford 21st, Chester 22nd and York 26th out of 32 teams.
Local wrestlers placed in the following weight classes:
Locals met in a scrap for fifth place in the 106-pound division. Fort Mill’s John Brotemarkl was paired against Nation Ford’s Jeremy Kishbaugh after both lost in the semifinals; the Yellow Jacket walking away with an 8-1 win and fifth place. Rock Hill’s Justin Beck placed eighth.
York’s Michael Avore placed fifth in the 113-pound class. Avore lost in the first round of the tournament, but wrestled back to beat three opponents and claim a berth in the consolation semifinals. Archer (Ga.) wrestler Logan Smith dropped Avore with a 12-1 major decision, but the Cougar grappler rebounded to beat Travelers Rest’s Benjamin Williams, pinning him in 1 minute, 5 seconds.
Rock Hill’s Logan Sexton placed third in the 120-pound class. He produced a pair of pins and a decision win to move into the semifinals, where Archer’s Vinny Artigues out-lasted Sexton for a 9-3 decision win. But two more pins, including a 4-minute, 35-second sticking of Alexander (Ga.) wrestler Bryce Hollomon, wrapped up a bronze finish for Sexton.
Leitten cruised to the Southern Slam championship in the 126-pound weight class. Leitten pinned his first two opponents in less than a minute, before taking down South Pointe’s Marvin Gallette with a 16-1 technical fall in the semifinal. Leitten then pinned Archer’s Standridge in the final, his toughest match of the tournament, a 4-minute, 38-second pin, to win the weight class.
Gallette regrouped to top Emerald’s Conner Pirkle in a 10-4 decision, before falling to Woodward Academy’s Grady Pastor in a narrow 2-0 decision defeat. Gallette still claimed fourth place.
Nation Ford’s Dalen Byerley fell in the final of the 132-pound class, while South Pointe’s Nathan Stradford finished fourth.
Byerley cruised into the final, his closest match, a 6-1 first round decision victory over Lugoff-Elgin’s Taylor Catoe. Byerley then tech-falled Wade Hampton’s Luke Wetzel and major-decisioned White Knoll’s Richard Graham.
That set up a semifinal meeting with Stradford, who pinned three straight opponents, but Byerley claimed the championship berth with a 1-minute, 47-second pin. Archer’s Chris Diaz handled Byerley in the final, winning a 9-1 decision, while Stradford pinned Thompson’s Jacob Megois, before falling to Liberty’s Kyle Chrzanowski in a tight consolation final, dropping a 5-4 decision to finish fourth.
York’s Cole Rumfelt finished sixth in the 138-class despite reaching the semifinals. He beat Fort Mill’s Jake Strong with a 9-7 decision to advance to the semifinal, but was dumped out by Alexander’s Roman Boylen, the eventual weight class champ, in a 17-4 major decision.
Rumfelt was then injured in the consolation semifinal and had to forfeit the fifth place match. Strong wrestled back to finish eighth.
Rock Hill’s Babe Rigby placed sixth in the 145-pound division. Archer’s Trey Rhinehart beat Rigby in the quarterfinals, before the Bearcat topped two opponents to reach the consolation semifinal. He dropped a 4-3 decision to Dutch Fork’s Parker Grizzle, then fell in the fifth place match to White Knoll’s Thomas Dalrymple.
Fort Mill’s Jack Debbout placed fifth in the 152-pound class. He went out in the quarterfinals to Parkwood (N.C.) grappler Andrew Webb on a 19-3 tech-fall, but came back to pin Dutch Fork’s Matthew Weeks and Dorman’s Denzel Wheeler. Debbout then lost a 7-0 decision to Belton-Honea Path’s Dylan Gary, but pinned Sumter’s Donavon Jones in 2 minutes, 41 seconds to take fifth.
South Pointe’s Michael Grubb placed third in the 170-pound class. He reached the semifinal with a pin, a major decision and an 8-6 decision victory over Boiling Springs’ Tristan Nelson, but was pinned in 3 minutes, 37 seconds by Summerville’s Anthony Collins in the semis. Grubb recovered to pull out a 5-2 decision over Dutch Fork’s Damien Benson, before eking out a 4-3 decision over Dorman’s Dalton Simpson to take third.
South Pointe’s Ricky Blackman made a nice run to the 182-pound final, before Belton-Honea Path’s Eddie Smith pinned him in 38 seconds to win the class. Still, Blackman pulled out a major decision and two decision wins to reach the final, and eventually take second place.
Chesney won four matches to take the 195-pound title. After a first round bye, the junior took an 8-0 major decision over Sumter’s Michael Spurling, before pinning Hillcrest’s Hunter Boyles in 3 minutes, 46 seconds to advance to the semifinals. Chesney then knocked off Thompson’s Nicholas Mobley with a 6-1 decision before squeaking past Schultz in the final.
Chester’s Temaris Dixon finished fifth in the 220-pound class. Dixon claimed a first round bye then dropped Fort Mill’s Gray Hinson in 36 seconds to advance to the quarterfinals. Summerville’s Eric Henderson dropped Dixon into the consolation bracket with an 11-7 decision win, but the Cyclone senior pinned Dorman’s Trevon Hicklin in 2 minutes, 17 seconds to set up a consolation semi meeting with Sumter’s David Pringle. He held off Dixon with a 3-2 decision, before Dixon made amends, pinning Boiling Springs’ Baxter Murray in 1 minute, 59 seconds to claim fifth.
Rock Hill junior Alan Salgado lost to eventual weight class champion Gage Cervenka, from Emerald, in the quarterfinals, but wrestled back to win third place in the heavyweight class. Salgado then pinned Liberty’s DeAndre Mansell in 2 minutes flat, and Ninety-Six’s Bailey Weaghington in 3 minutes, 42 seconds. In the consolation semis, Salgado stopped Archer’s Jacob Lill with a 3-2 decision, before grinding out a 2-0 decision win over Mauldin’s Josh Smith to finish third.