Leitten of Fort Mill wins his third state wrestling title
Years from now, it may be something AJ Leitten looks back on and laughs, but in a moment of clarity, even pain couldn’t derail the Fort Mill High senior from making history.
Leitten won his third consecutive state wrestling championship Saturday evening in Anderson at the 5A individual state tournament, concluding his prep career with a 16-0 tech fall over Irmo’s Marcus Johnson at 138 pounds. Leitten ended his career on a 110-match winning streak and finishes with a career record of 174-6, setting a new mark for wins at the school. He becomes the school’s first three-time state wrestling champion and finished his senior season without yielding a takedown. Having been scored on by just four wrestlers this season, mostly 1-point escapes he conceded, Leitten won all three of his matches at the state tournament by a combined score of 46-0.
On top of that, he may have won his third state title with a broken toe.
While beating Johnson, Leitten took an awkward step during the first period of the match and injured the toe. Leading 8-0 at that point, he took an injury time out and had some tape wrapped around his shoe. Not knowing the severity of the injury, he continued to wrestle and beat Johnson midway through the second period. It was after the match when he realized the big toe on his right foot could be broken. A definitive diagnosis couldn’t be made mat-side, but a doctor at the Anderson Civic Center confirmed it appeared to be a break.
“It just snapped,” Leitten said. “I felt it right away. I knew I could wrestle with it, but it hurt.”
The NC State wrestling recruit finished this season with a perfect 47-0 record and was named the Most Outstanding Wrestlers in 5A for the tournament.
Leitten was one of two Fort Mill wrestlers to make the finals. Junior Jake Hart fell to River Bluff’s Ben Emery at 145 pounds in an 8-3 match.
“I expected that to be a tough match,” Fort Mill head coach Chris Brock said.
Junior Brody Claassen finished fourth at 126 pounds and was the only other Yellow Jacket who placed. Fort Mill brought six wrestlers to the tournament. Brock said he had hoped for more. However, this does mark the 13th consecutive season that a Fort Mill wrestler has won a state title.
“Things didn’t go as well as planned,” Brock said. “Some guys we felt should have performed better. It is something we will learn from.”
Other area champions
Indian Land High School came away with two state champions. Indian Land brought home state titles at 106 pounds with Austin Ross winning 6-2 over Mid-Carolina's Toby Bishop. The Warriors also won a state title winner at 126 pounds after a 6-5 decision by Chad Milasauskas over West Oak's Jared Smith.
It was Warriors head coach Leon Boulware's first year at the school after coaching at Nation Ford. He said he isn't surprised at the early success the team has had despite the first year transition of the program.
“They have bought in and worked their butts off,” Boulware said. “Plus, it’s a wrestling school. They have a good tradition.”
The Nation Ford Falcons had only one wrestler in the tournament, Jake Gravely, who came back Saturday to win two matches and finish third at 182 pounds. Gravely opened the tournament with a win by fall in the third period over Summerville’s Scott Jackson, but lost in the semifinals 2-1 to Boiling Springs’ Cade Rojas.
Despite falling to the consolation bracket, Gravely wrestled his way into the consolation finals and earned a 4-0 decision over White Knoll’s Tyler Martin in his final match.
“He is a guy who has been consistently there for us all year,” said Nation Ford head coach Dan Snell. “He isn't flashy, but he works hard.”
Gravely ended his career with more than 130 wins.
“We graduate two guys with over 130 wins,” Snell said, referring also to senior Jeremy Kishbaugh. “We graduate two quality guys. That is going to be a tough void to fill.”
Mac Banks: email@example.com, @MacBanksFM