REACHING THE PINNACLE OF EXCELLENCE: Foard wrestling captures first NCHSAA dual-team state title since 2015; 3rd dual title overall

The Fred T. Foard wrestling team posing after winning the 2020 NCHSAA dual state championship in Greensboro on Saturday, February 8. (Photo by Fred T. Foard Athletics)Tigers’ senior wrestler Braden Wharton (right) competing against Central Academy of Technology and Arts’ Preston Scarborough in the 138-pound class in the third round of the NCHSAA dual-team state tournament on Friday, February 7, inside of Copas Gymnasium. (Photo by Brian Hendrix)Foard wrestler Hunter Lloyd competing against the Central Academy Cougars in the 182-pound class in Friday’s 2A West quarterfinal at Fred T. Foard High School. (Photo by Brian Hendrix)
Marcus Smith
Sports Editor

The Fred T. Foard Tigers wrestling team ended things in the dual-team state tournament the way it began the season: on top of the world.

“As Herm Edwards (Arizona State's football coach) says, "You play to win the game, so we want to win every time we compete, but at the same time, we understand that doesn't always happen. We just want to give our best effort and that gives us a chance to win,” said Foard head wrestling coach Mike Carey after winning the 2A state title. “It sure is nice to put a "0" behind that "47.”

It's a tough feat to charge through any sports tournament and the Tigers (47-0) did so in stride over the weekend. The Tigers entered the NCHSAA dual-team tourney following a Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference tournament title win, as well. It cruised to victory for most of its encounters this post-season, and it even earned a solidifying win over defending 2A dual-team state champ West Lincoln to begin things off in the second round last Tuesday.

Next up on its list of executions were Central Academy of Technology and Arts (CATA) and Pigsah in the 2A West semifinal and finals matches, respectively.

Foard freshman Brock Carey kicked it off in the 106-pound class match with CATA's Aidan Nasta. Carey took to his opponent en route to a technical fall victory to give his team the early lead.

At 113, Tigers' Ian Willis followed suit with a pinfall win over AJ Zummo to lead, 11-0, at the time. However, the Tigers were in for a fight as CATA quickly answered with a technical fall victory via Kyle Montaperton over Foard's Spencer Bechtol (120-pound). CATA trailed the Tigers, 11-5.

The Tigers were clinging on for the lead, 11-9, following unbeaten Hunter Ross's (21-0) 13-0 major decision victory over Foard junior Jamie Richard. Zane Birtchet (132-pound) retaliated for the Tigers and put his squad back on the board with a major decision win over CATA's Elijah Harris to lead, 15-9.

Foard senior Braden Wharton (138-pound) turned on the jets after getting into a 3-2 hole early against Preston Scarborough. He pulled it back around quickly to take an 8-3 decision victory. At the halfway mark, Foard still maintained an 18-12 lead, although CATA's Brady Ross trimmed it down once again with a narrow escape decision win over Tigers' senior Justin Whalen, trailing 18-15, at the time.

With six bouts left, Foard was a little shaky as it dropped the 160-pound match via CATA's 2019 state runner-up Aiden Curry as he collected a win over Evan Steiger. CATA led 20-18.

Shaking the slump off, the Tigers went on a tangent as it earned five straight victories (the final being a forfeit), winning 38-26 and advancing to the finals' match-up with Pigsah. Foard obtained two decision victories and two pinfall wins. Hunter Lloyd (182-pound) and Landon Foor (220-pound) earned pins while decisions came via David Weaver (170-pound) and Jacob Beltran (195-pound).

Heading into the battle with Pigsah, Foard was entering its second 2A West final in three years while its opposition finally got past the quarterfinals.

Like the previous match for the Tigers, the pace of this contest was fairly even. Willis (113-pound) picked up the first win to start things off with a pinfall of Pigsah's Gabe Carr, leading 6-0.

Dawson Cody (120-pound) followed with a pinfall victory over Pigsah's Seth King to open up a 12-0 lead.

Richard fell once again to an unstoppable force at 126 via Braden Riggs (43-1) as Pigsah finally got on the board, 12-6. Maintaining a small 12-10 lead, Wharton capitalized at 138 with a 12-9 decision to keep his Tigers ahead, 15-10.

The next two bouts were back-and-forth as Foard and Pigsah split. Then, Weaver earned an 18-3 technical fall win over David Queen at 160-pounds. Foard took a 23-12 lead into the final six matches.

The run for Pigsah was over as the Tigers obtained five wins in the final six. Foard collected wins from Steiger (170-pound), Lloyd (182-pound), Belton (195-pound), Foor (220-pound) via pinfall and Carey via forfeit. Pigsah's Dylan McClellan earned the team's final win in the 285-pound bout via pinfall.

Foard advanced to Saturday's 2A State Championship against Croatan in Greensboro with a 51-19 victory over Pigsah. It was Croatan's eighth championship match in the last 10 years. It lost its match to West Lincoln last season. Croatan earned back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011.

While, Foard's appearance was its first as a 2A school. The Tigers collected 3A dual-team state titles in 2013 and 2015 and was the state runner-up in 2014.

This match-up left little to be desired for Croatan as the Tigers blitzed through them with ease, 59-9, en route to its 3rd dual-team state championship.

Prior to the first match, Richard of Foard received the 2020 NCHSAA Sportsmanship Award.

“Jamie is another great kid in our program,” said Carey. “He always helps set up and clean up after matches, has a great attitude, and oh yeah, he has gotten a ton better at his craft. He is a pinner too, and that helps.”

At 120, Bechtol started on the mat in the Greensboro Coliseum Fieldhouse against Croatan's Angelica Steffy. Bechtol earned the pin and put Foard ahead, 6-0, at the time.

Richard (126-pound) finally earned a win over the weekend when it counted most as he pinned his opposition to give the Tigers a 12-0 advantage. The Tigers won its next two matches via pinfall as it established itself going 4-for-4 with wins coming from Birtchet (132-pound) and Wharton (138-pound) to jump out in front, 24-0.

In terms of Wharton, the senior had one of his best showings of the tournament in the championship and due to his effort throughout the event, he was awarded the 2020 NCHSAA Most Outstanding Wrestler Award.

“Braden had a good dual run,” said Carey. “He beat four good kids, with one loss during the duals, but his upbeat, go get 'em attitude is what we need. His attitude is second to no one, and as a senior, we as a coaching staff felt awesome that he got recognized for that.”

Keeping its paws on the neck of the opposition, the Tigers moved ahead with a commanding 32-0 lead after the first six bouts. At 145, Dalton Jackson obtained the decision win over Croatan's Drake Egan. Whalen followed up at 152 with a 15-0 technical fall win.

In the first bout of the final six matches, Lloyd clinched the 2A state title with a 16-0 technical fall victory at 170-pounds and pushed ahead, 41-0.

Foard's Jacob Belton (182-pound) demonstrated his toughness in the next match after suffering an ankle injury. Belton held off Croatan's Dakota Gray and secured an 11-9 decision win.

Foor came onto the mat next and dominated his opponent a few classes down from 220 in the 195-pound bout and in 19 seconds flat secured yet another pinfall victory. Foor collected his 54th victory over the season (54-0) and gave the Tigers a 50-0 lead.

Croatan's Ryan Lindey snapped the shutout with a 7-6 decision win over Tigers' junior Mo McAfee at 220-pounds, trailing 50-3, at the time. At 106, Jacob Caldwell secured Croatan's first and only pinfall victory over Foard's William Auton, trailing 53-9.

Carey closed the night out with a pin of his own at 113 to give his Tigers the 59-9 championship victory.

“It's the cherry on top. There are a lot of boxes that I want to check off as a dad and son. This happens to be one of them,” said Carey of his son Brock being apart of this championship team. “I wanted him to have a team championship, and now he will have that, and it makes me very happy for him.”

Carey said he feels this victory could either help or hurt his team as it heads into the NCHSAA Individual State tournament. He said it depends on how it affects them.

“You can use it for confidence knowing that you have been in big matches and done some big things or you can feel satisfied and that is a dangerous thing in sports since it's so natural to feel complacent,” he said. “(As for me) I stay pretty motivated because I love what I do. I get to see kids develop from not very good athletes to kids who can do some pretty special things.

“Just like every coach, I have ups and downs, but I love what I do, and who I get to do it with. I love hanging with the coaches that I coach with, the kids have great attitudes, and I love the sport, so it really is a win-win. I think it's great for our school and community to have two state championship teams in one (calendar) year. It shows what can be done when kids commit to being excellent in all phases of their life.”

The 2020 NCHSAA Individual State tournament begins on Friday, February 14. The 2A West Regionals begin at 4:30 p.m. at West Wilkes High School and continue on Saturday at 9 a.m.