Taking Fourth • Dogs rack up state honors
It’s easy to see that the story is in the numbers.
1 Nick Simmons, 160 lb. AA State Champion
2 Austin Ross, 182 lb. AA State Runner-Up
3 Stewart Spence, 170 lb. AA 3rd place medalist
4 Morgan County High School Matdogs, AA 4th place
5 Bailey Ross, 195 lb. AA 5th place medalist
In the vastness that is the Gwinnett Arena, in the waning hours of Saturday, Morgan County wrestling Head Coach John Robbins grins wide at the athletes gathered around him on the AA mat.
Four of those young men have earned high honors to bring home to Morgan County. And although all the Matdog wrestlers who battled it out for state honors didn’t place, their efforts were enough to garner the team a fourth-place standing in the GHSA State Traditional AA team results.
It’s the best MCHS team finish at state since 2005, moving up from last year’s fifth place slot.
No wonder Robbins playfully lifts the baseball cap from Nick Simmons’ head and places it on his own head, altering ever-so-slightly the stoic, shirt-and-tie, I’m-a-head-coach-at-the-State-Championships look that has been his standard for the three grueling days in Duluth that have marked the end of a season filled with high expectations, a few daunting injuries, and now, the most successful season of Robbins’ MCHS career.
Spence, Ross and Simmons are joined by Ross brother Bailey as they compare their medals, still encased in unassuming plastic boxes that belie the significance of their contents. The four athletes don’t notice as the crowd dissipates in the stands. They are not thinking of the physical effects of a demanding season of wrestling that followed so fast on the heels of an intense season of football. They also don’t hear the joy in their parents’ voices as they make the season’s final transition from die-hard wrestling fans back to their roles as heads of their family units.
Robbins turns his head, regal-like, hamming it up with Simmons’ cap, one of the several items the senior wrestler received as the 160 lb. AA State Champion. The four engage with Robbins in his antics before Robbins removes the hat and deftly places back on Simmons’ head.
In this one moment, the din of celebration drowns out the subtlety of Robbins’ sleight of hand and intensity of commitment to this sport and the young men who fill his day in his life as coach.
Ask Robbins about this team.
Robbins has much to say about his wrestlers as athletes. He is quick to recognize the support of the MCHS administration and the parents of his team. He praises football head coach Bill Malone for encouraging football players to wrestle and for having the vision to see how the two sports complement each other in skill, discipline and endurance.
Ask him again. The truth will out. What simmers in the core of John Robbins’ coaching philosophy is a sense of admiration for the young men he coaches.
“This is an amazing group of guys who drove this team. The best part of coaching is learning who these guys are, and experiencing this time with them,” he says. “I am so proud of the character these young men have displayed over the last several months.”
The road to the 2011-2012 state championship was paved with strength of character, Robbins says. He describes injuries and setbacks which could have been enough to discourage his team, even his most experienced wrestlers with strong records and an indomitable will to win. Starters Carter Shultz, Bailey Ross, Wyatt Martin, Joey Perpoli and Clayton Bearden battled physical restrictions that either limited their ability to compete, or, in some cases, removed them for the entire season.
“It has been our goal all year to place in the top three or four in state traditionals. Trial after trial was heaped upon these guys. Yet they had the resolve to make this a banner year,” Robbins says. “They committed mentally and physically.”
The banner year means that four athletes earned the right to be honored in the tournament’s award ceremony. Robbins refers to these medalists as “Murderer’s Row.” For the uninitiated, he is speaking of the steady and strong performance of wrestlers Simmons, Spence, A. Ross and B. Ross, who wrestle in back-to-back weight classes.
Saturday, the four share the honor of climbing upon the stair-stepped blocks that are the signifiers of a wrestler’s finish in a traditional meet.
The four also share a team warm-up jersey. At tournament’s end, only one made its way to the floor with the medalists. Before Simmons moves from the pack of wrestlers gathered at the edge of the mat to take his champion position for his weight class, teammate Spence reaches out to adjust the collar. When Simmons returns, medal and the other champion-trappings in tow, Spence helps him out of the jersey, and then does a quick costume change himself. The clothing-change process continues for Austin, and finally for Bailey, until the Matdogs have their medals and the team awaits their trophy.
Robbins quips, while watching the Collins Hill wrestling team claim their AAAAA first place honors, that their hooded, glossy green and white robes are making quite a statement.
“I am not really one for showboating, but those robes are pretty awesome,” he says. It’s the lightest moment yet for Robbins and his team, and in the next few minutes, he will offer his final words from the mat for the season, as the young men pass around a trophy that carries with it sweat, tears, blood, and, above all, determination.
“I tell them all the time: ‘don’t waste anything,’” Robbins says. “There’s nothing to lose by getting out there and seeing how good you can do.”
For the three returning medalists, and the other Matdogs ready to use all they have to see how good they can do, next year’s season is only eight months away.
state recap straight from the coach’s mouth
113: Jack Speyer (0-2/ DNP). Jack lost the opening round match to the eventual state champ from Jordan, and then lost in a rematch of his region championship match vs. Monticello. I am very proud of Jack for qualifying for the state finals. There aren't many freshmen competing at the Gwinnett Arena, and Jack improved dramatically throughout this season to add his name to that short list.
126: Jack Leclair (0-2/ DNP). Jack lost his opening match to a senior from GAC who finished 5th, and then dropped a nail-biter to a senior from East Lauren's who had pinned him earlier this year at the state duals. Jack's still looking for his first win at the Gwinnett Arena but he'sl way ahead of most sophomores.
132: James Bearden (1-2/ DNP). The senior team captain had a tough bracket, losing a decision to a Lovett wrestler who eventually took 5th. He recorded a fall over Dawson County in the consolation before dropping a decision to the eventual 4th place finisher from GAC. James's leadership both on and off the mat is something I won't be able to replace. Recording over 175 varsity wins is quite an accomplishment, but it takes a back seat to the character and work ethic James has modeled to the rest of his teammates over the last four years.
138: Quentavious Jackson (1-2/ DNP). Q lost first round to the 3rd placer from Blessed Trinity, then got us a big fall over Southwest Macon before dropping a close decision to a senior from McIntosh County Academy who ended up medaling. Q did a great job for us this year, and could be a real threat to medal next season.
160: Nick Simmons (4-0/ State Champion). First round fall over North Murray, then an 8-0 major decision over Elbert, and 16-0 spanking in the semi's over Adairsville, concluding with a 6-3 decision over a returning state finalist. This young man has been getting me out of jams all year, from the football stadiums of 4-AA to the mats of the Gwinnett Arena. He took his semifinal loss last year really hard, and he has spent this year making sure that it wouldn't happen again. The next few months will be very exciting for Nick, as he will decide whether he wants to play football or wrestle in college. He will compete in the NHSCA Senior Nationals in Virginia Beach in late March.
170: Stewart Spence (4-1/ 3rd place). What a stud! This guy has battled through more wars on the mat this year than most wrestlers have in their career. After an opening round fall over GAC, Stewart had a tough draw in the quarters in a returning state medalist from Southeast Bulloch (same wrestler who defeated him last year in the medal round, and the same one we beat last week in the sectional semi's in OT to advance to the eastern finals). This bout began no differently, and they both traded points back and forth until Stewart caught and pinned his opponent in the 3rd round to guarantee his all state/state medal honors. Stewart dropped a heck of the match in the semi's 8-11 to a returning state champion from Calhoun who was absolutely on fire. He then fended off a bull from Elbert with a 15-5 whipping to earn another rematch with the senior from Southeast Bulloch in the consolation finals. Stewart was losing 0-2 with less than 30 seconds left in the match when he abruptly got a reversal and then an almost immediate near fall, holding his opponent on his back as time expired to conclude the series with a 5-2 win. Stew wrestled an unbelievable tournament, and could have easily been on top of the podium Saturday night like his drill partner.
182: Austin Ross (3-1/ state runner-up). This guy might be the breakout wrestler for our entire classification, as he continued to knock off big name wrestlers this weekend until people realized that they weren't upsets. Austin Ross is just for real. After a first round 20-4 technical fall over Gordon Central, Austin bested a returning state champion form Toombs Co. 5-0, which made everyone in the arena get on their feet. His semifinal win over a returning 3rd place finisher from Lovett came via a takedown with less than 10 seconds to go in the last period with the score knotted a 2-2. Then in the finals, he gave a 3 time state champion and high school all-American his best match, coming up short 3-9. Austin has been wrestling better than anyone on our team over the past two weeks. I can't be happier for him, particularly after he was able to wrestle only two matches last year as a sophomore due to surgery from a football injury. In all actuality, this year was really his sophomore season. I can't wait to watch him progress through his senior year.
195: Bailey Ross (3-2/ 5th place). Bailey opened with a fall over GAC and a technical fall over Jordan in the quarters to guarantee him medalist honors for the second time in his career as only a junior (a feat that has only been accomplished on my watch by Jacob Akins). Bailey's semi loss was an unbelievable heart breaker ending at 1-3 to the eventual state champion from Westminister (who won by the same margin in the finals). He then had another terrible break in the consolation semis as he lost 1-2 in the third overtime period to a returning statechampion from Lovett. This put him in the 5th/6th place match, which he won by default as his opponent from Calhoun had suffered an earlier injury and could not continue. Bailey's weight class was unbelievably tough featuring five returning state medalists. Bailey had a great despite that he didn’t join us due to an existing injury until the state duals in January.
Printed in the February 23, 2012 edition.