The 4A East region wrestling championships took place on February 9-10, and Leesville showed up in force. Of the nineteen schools present, Leesville placed fourth overall, narrowly losing third place to Corinth Holders.
The tournament was held at New Bern High School–roughly two and a half hours away from Leesville Road High. Despite the extensive drive, Leesville wrestling still came through with its 12 starters in tow.
After the initial two rounds of the first day, Leesville had seven wrestlers move into the semi-finals of the tournament. Of these seven, Brandon Jones (junior), Richie Rizzuto (sophomore), Maximus Buico (sophomore), and Jacob Polansky (sophomore) had won their matches; not only did this advance the four directly to the finals, but guaranteed their qualification for the state tournament.
In order to qualify for the state tournament, one must place in the top four of their respective weight class. Winning a semi-finals match guarantees a state qualification, but losing delivers the wrestler straight to the “blood round.” The blood round is the match that can make or break a wrestler–the last opportunity to make it to states. To win in the blood round advances a wrestler to the consolation finals, the match that determines third and fourth place in a bracket. This round is notoriously the most nerve racking and intense of any at regionals.
“Being in the blood round is arguably the most stressful and difficult thing I’ve ever done,” said Simeon Ruff, a Leesville senior and captain of the wrestling team. “I’ve been there three years in a row, and each time is more stressful than the last.”
By the time of the blood round, four Leesville wrestlers were fighting for their last chance to become state qualifiers. After four intense rounds–one of which went to overtime–four dreams were left broken. Not one Leesville wrestler made it out of the blood round.
Four Leesville wrestlers had qualified for the state tournament, but the fight was not yet over. The regional finals would determine the champions of the tournament.
In the 106 pound weight class, Max Buico lost a close 8-7 match, ending the tournament as a regional runner up. Jacob Polansky also lost his finals match to defending state champ Nash Philiback, finishing as a regional runner up. In both the 113 and 152 pound weight classes, Richie Rizzuto and Brandon Jones dominated their opponents to immortalize themselves as regional champions.
“The feeling doesn’t hit you until after the finals match…and then it just overtakes you,” said Rizzuto. “I’ve put a lot of time and effort into this–nonstop, no breaks–and just knowing that it actually payed off makes me really happy.”
The North Carolina state tournament starts February 15 and runs through February 17. As states rapidly approaches, we look to Leesville’s qualifying wrestlers to finish their season strong. All eyes turn to Greensboro Coliseum and to the looming end of this year’s high school wrestling season.