Does it come as a surprise that the state's top two wrestling programs are in the Class AAAA championship match tonight at Ridge View High School?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Tonight's championship match pairs two old rivals, No. 5 Rock Hill and No. 2 Summerville. Since the South Carolina High School League went to a duals format to determine state champions in 1993, the Bearcats and Green Wave have met six times for the title, with Summerville owning a 4-2 edge.
Summerville won in 1993, but Rock Hill rebounded with wins in '94 and '95 on its way to five of the next six titles. Summerville wasn't the opponent in the last four, but leads Class AAAA with seven championships under the current format.
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They met again in 2004 and 2005, with Summerville easily winning both championships, 41-21 and 43-16.
"They last two times we met, we came out on the wrong end,'' said Bearcats coach Cain Beard, in his first season at Rock Hill. "But what I see is we have two teams in the finals that are loaded top to bottom. They have some kids that should win. We have ours, so it will come down to each individual match.
"If you would have said in September that Rock Hill would be in the state championship, people would have laughed at you. Our kids bought into the system. We told them they had been winning, but beating only 70 percent of the teams in the state. We told them our plan was to beat the other 30 percent, and here we are with a chance.''
Before the duals tournament, state champions were decided by the individuals tournament, which still exists and began in 1978. Wrestlers qualified at the region and Upper State to Lower State tournaments to determine who advanced to the championship round. The team that picked up the most individual points at the state was crowned champion.
Rock Hill dominated the state in those tournaments, winning nine of the 15 championships and finishing second in five others. Summerville won four times and was second six times to the Bearcats.
Numbers are fun, but this is a new season and the 15 championships won by Rock Hill and the 11 by Summerville mean squat tonight. And for the first time anyone can remember, the finalists come in with two losses each and each finished second in their regions.
The Bearcats, from Region 3-AAAA, are 29-2. The Green Wave, from Region 8-AAAA, are 23-2 under Kenny Walker, who might hang it up this year. He said coaching is starting to become a grind and that he will take a couple of weeks of down time before deciding what he's going to do.
But that in no way curbs his enthusiasm for tonight's showdown.
"I think it's kinda neat what it's come down to -- two teams with tradition battling for the championship,'' said Walker, who's led the Green Wave to six state titles. "I'm coaching kids whose brothers wrestled here for Steve LaPrad when all of this began. I'm sure coach Beard has kids whose brothers wrestled for Jim Barnes.
"We both had big wins in the last round, beating rivals that had already beaten us in front of big crowds. I look for this to be another great Summerville-Rock Hill championship match.
Both teams advanced with wins over their region champions and top rivals on Feb. 6. Rock Hill knocked off Fort Mill 36-30 after losing to the Yellow Jackets in the regular season. Summerville beat Fort Dorchester, which won its third straight against Summerville with a 31-28 win in the regular season and is the defending state champ.
The matches were the final of the regular season for all four teams and determined the region champions. And it's odd that only one wrestler -- Summerville's Eli Ashby at 130 pounds -- is ranked No. 1 in his weight class on either team.
Rock Hill has only one wrestler ranked second, Weston Beck at 103. Summeville has four -- Aaron Henson (112), Ashley Bracklein (135), Berlin Oliver (145) and Andre Deweese (heavyweight).
WANT TO GO?
• What: Class AAAA duals wrestling state championship
• Who: Rock Hill (29-2) vs. Summerville (23-2)
• When: 6 p.m.
• Where: Ridge View High School
• Tickets: $6
• Directions: Take I-77 South toward Columbia. Get off at the Blythewood exit (27). Turn left onto Blythewood Road. Turn left again on Main Street/U.S. 21. When you get to Langford Road, turn right. Then take a right onto Hard Scrabble Road, which leads to the high school.