The split-second decisions made on a wrestling mat in front of screaming fans are much easier than this decision in the Rock Hill High wrestling office.
A case lays open before Bearcat wrestlers Noah Reynolds and Bailey Wilkins. It’s full of championship rings, even a real Carolina Panthers Super Bowl runners-up ring. Reynolds, a senior who won the 5A 160-pound state title last Saturday, is deferring to Wilkins, a sophomore who also won a championship. Wilkins is designing a ring for the second straight year and offering Reynolds his advice based on what he picked after last year’s state title.
If everything goes to plan, Wilkins will make this decision two more times.
Rock Hill grapplers Weston Beck, Marcus Cherry, Chris Collins, Corey Dye, Wes Hallman, Keith Harris, Lamont Hicks, Rodney Hinton, James Jones and Kevin Nichols all won three state titles, according to SCMat.com. But no Bearcat has ever won four.
Wilkins has a chance to do that.
“He’s been around this program his whole life,” said Rock Hill coach Cain Beard. “He’s gotten to see the state championships won, these guys that won it for us as individuals as well. He’s gone to club-level stuff, national tournaments, so if anybody’s capable he obviously is.”
Rock Hill’s program has won a state-best 19 team titles, but it’s not surprising that the school has never produced a four-time individual state champ. A couple of reasons why:
▪ Freshmen don’t always contribute in strong programs like Rock Hill’s.
▪ If a freshman isn’t in the lower weight classes, they often struggle wrestling against kids three and four years older than them.
▪ And of course, it’s very difficult to be good enough, for long enough, to win four championships.
Wilkins has negated all three of those reasons so far. Having two older brothers, Jared and Tyler, who both wrestled at Rock Hill High, has exposed Wilkins to high-level high school wrestling for years. When he started in the sport, his goal was to win a high school state championship. He finished his middle school years at Castle Heights undefeated, winning two state titles, and the goal shifted slightly.
“I was wanting to win two, three, multiple and four never came into my mind until last year,” Wilkins said. “I was like, ‘I can actually do this.’”
He won the 5A state title as a 126-pound freshman, before bumping up to 132 this year. Wilkins took down Stratford’s Josh Maningding in the first period of the final for two points, then scored an escape in the second period and rode out the win. He threw up two fingers on each hand as the ref raised his arm.
Wilkins can’t win four titles without first getting the third, so that’s the immediate focus headed into the offseason.
It depends on what happens with his body, but Wilkins would like to bump up two weight classes, then drop down late next season to 138 pounds. Beard doesn’t think the rise in weight class will be an issue because Wilkins trains and practices so much in the offseason. His technique will carry over, no matter how much muscle he adds.
“Keep working harder, practice more and more,” said Wilkins, who trains often at a gym in Charlotte with other top high school and college wrestlers from the area. “Keep my mindset right before every match and keep wrestling.”
Wilkins has won 121 of the 138 matches he’s wrestled in high school. If he maintains his current performance levels he could become not just the first Bearcat to win four individual state titles, but only the 19th wrestler in state history.
“That’s something significant, that’s a great goal to have,” Beard said. “Every kid wants to do something nobody else has ever done.”
Local top-3 finishes from the 2018 SCHSL state championships
Rock Hill - Bailey Wilkins won his second state title in a row, taking a 3-0 decision in the 132-pound championship bout over Stratford’s Josh Maningding. Noah Reynolds (160) capped his high school career with a state title, pinning two opponents then winning 6-4 in the championship match. Justin Beck (113) and Brandon Mills (182) both placed second. Beck finished his career with the second most wins in school history (232).
Fort Mill - Jake Hart concluded a standout senior season by winning the 152-pound state title and earning Most Outstanding Wrestler honors for the 5A classification. The Virginia Tech signee won a pin, then a major decision to reach the final. There, he edged Fort Dorchester’s Drew Parker to a 2-1 double overtime decision to claim the title. Fort Mill’s Ethan Johnson (106) and Jacob Sturgeon (120) both finished third.
Northwestern - Mison Mickle lost to Rock Hill’s Noah Reynolds in the 160-pound semifinals but wrestled back to place third.
York - 106-pounder Kaleem Heard won a state championship, pinning Hartsville’s Jordan Lynch in the finals. Heard won a major decision and two pins in a convincing performance. York’s Jackson Rumfelt made the podium in the 113-pound class, placing third.
South Pointe - The Stallions had a pair of wrestlers, Morgan Belk (145) and Isaac Ekonem (170), finish fourth in the state.
Lancaster - Heavyweight Immanuel Bush finished third in the state.
Chester - Javier Gonzales lost in the finals of the 132-pound classification, finishing second. LyTerrence Mills (145) and Terrence Mills (160) both placed third in their classifications.
Indian Land - It was a big weekend for the Warriors, who brought home a pair of state titles. Austin Ross claimed his second state championship, pinning Woodruff’s Noah Johns in the 113-pound finals, while freshman Soloman Cortez won a 17-11 decision in the 106-pound state championship match. Ross won all three of his matches by pin. Kyle Daley (152) added a second place finish, while Weston Nguyen (120) placed fourth.
Four-time individual state champs in SCHSL history
Summerville - John Van Slooten, Jordan Wigger, Aaron Hansen,
Chesterfield - Ian Harper, Dalton Harper
Emerald - Gage Cervenka
Eastside - Clay Walker, Eddie Coles, Corbin Martin, J.C. Oddo, Matt Leach
Loris - Jonathan Willard
Lugoff-Elgin - Ben Connell
Hillcrest - Robby Bell
Greer - Dan Wirnsberger
Swansea - Barnell Mack
Buford - James McKinney
Airport - Carl Van Sewell