However, after Day 1 of the two-day tournament, only three of those wrestlers still had a shot at winning their weight classes.
As expected, Reed sophomore Spencer Empey was one of those guys. The 215-pounder won his quarterfinal match with a 12-3 major decision and then snuck past Jordan Kurth of Shadow Ridge, 4-3, to earn a spot in Saturday’s championship battle with Green Valley’s Nathan Thomas.
All the pressure was on Empey going into that match. Empey was trying to finish the season off with a 50-0 record and not suffeer bitter disappointment in his last match.
Empey had to get out of a little hole early on in the championship match. Thomas took a 2-0 lead early in the first round, but Empey cut the lead in half, making it 2-1 heading into the second round.
That’s when the momentum shifted and Empey took the lead for good. Empey took down Thomas for two points, but at the same time, Thomas hurt his shoulder and nearly injury defaulted. Empey said after the match he was glad Thomas continued because that wasn’t the right way to win or lose a state championship.
Still, Thomas wasn’t the same. Empey’s 3-2 edge after two rounds quickly grew into a 9-3 victory with a dominant third. Empey also almost picked up a pin fall.
“It feels pretty good,” Empey said. “I knew it was going to be a battle but I knew I just had to stick to my game plan and execute it.”
Empey’s teammate, junior Broc Westlake, also had a shot to win his weight class after picking up 10-6 and 8-6 decisions Friday. But he had to face off with Shadow Ridge’s Brandon Fisher, who had pinned both of his first two opponents.
Westlake spent most of the match trading takedowns for escapes, allowing him to build a 7-3 lead. But the last 30 seconds of the match had Raider fans biting their nails.
After Fisher escaped to cut the deficit to 7-4 with 30 seconds to go, Westlake gave Fisher a point for stalling with 20 seconds on the clock. With under 10 seconds remaining, Westlake again was called for stalling, making it a 7-6 score. Luckily for the Blue and Gold fans, Fisher was unable to shoot his way to a takedown and a come-from-behind victory in the closing seconds.
“It feels like all my hard work this year paid off,” Westlake said after the win. “I wouldn’t want it to end any other way. I knew it was going to be a battle because he had been pinning almost every kid. I knew it was going to be a battle. I just had to fight through it.”
Both Empey and Westlake were already looking forward to getting back to work and preparing for next year with a chance to repeat as both regional and state champions.
“I’m going to have to step up for next year because I’m going to have a target on my back,” Westlake said.
The other local wrestler to reach a final in the 4A was Spanish Springs junior Curtis Lampert at 119 pounds, who reached the championship versus Las Vegas’ Nathan Garcia by recording a 3-0 and 7-3 decision.
But Garcia was a tough grappler. Garcia racked up a 7-1 lead with under a minute left in the match and Lampert could not dig himself out of that hole, collecting two more points on a couple escapes to lose 7-3.
“I’m proud of him for making the championship, but he’s the type of kid where second is not good enough. He’ll get right back to work and drive himself to be a champion and get back on top,” SSHS wrestling coach Joe Imelli said of Lampert. “He represented his family well, his school, the community. He’s a class act even in the loss. I’m proud of him. He’s been a captain all year, and I know he’ll work hard until he’s back on top of the podium.”
While Spanish Springs earned a share of the Northern 4A regional title, the Cougars knew it would be tough to compete as a team at state. Lampert was realistically the only wrestler with a good shot to take home a title.
Of the seven Cougars who qualified for state, Lampert was the only wrestler to place. Garek Tauchen (152) and Nikk Aundenreid (189) were both one match away from placing. That cost the Purple and White in the team standings as SSHS finished 21st with 20 points.
“It’s a tough tournament to score points. When you don‘t have one regional champion, you know you will be facing a regional champion out of the South or another two seed, so you have tough matches right off the bat,” Imelli said. “That first round was tough for us. We had kids battle back and get a couple wins. The fact we didn’t get anyone else to place is a little disheartening.
“But of the seven guys we had at state, we bring back six of them. This program is really only five years in and we have three regional titles and four league titles. We’re a regional force right now, but we want to be a state force also. We‘ve got to up the ante and step up to the next level.”
Reed benefited from its big scorers in the team competition. The Raiders were tied for sixth after the first day with 39 points and finished alone in that spot after totaling 57 points thanks to the performances by Empey, Westlake and one senior.
Senior 152-pounder Reece Dassinger battled back from a back injury early this season and capped his high school career with a third-place finish at state. He lost to Spring Valley’s Ray Waters during the first day’s action and then won back-to-back matches Saturday to claim the bronze. Dassinger took down Tommy Field of Bishop Gorman with a pin, 11 seconds before the end of the second period in the third-place match.
Las Vegas won the large school championship with 103.5 points, 15.5 more than second-place Green Valley. Those two schools and Reed were the only teams with more than one state champion.
•In the 3A, Sparks brought five wrestlers to state and one excelled out of the bunch. Heavyweight Vance Bow erased the bitterness from last week’s fifth-place finish at regionals after entering the tournament as the top seed. Bow rebounded Friday by winning two matches to advance to the title match against Lowry‘s Fernando Herrera.
Neither wrestler made any ground in the first period, leaving it a scoreless tie after the first two minutes. Herrera had the top position and was in control of the first 1:50 of the second round. However, he could not overpower Bow for a takedown and somehow Bow found a way to escape for a point in the closing seconds of the second round.
A reversal in the third enabled Herrera to grab a 2-1 advantage, but an escape by Bow with 30 seconds left in the match changed the tide and knotted the score at 2-2.
Bow had control of Herrera and just needed a point for the win, but the Buckaroo slipped out of a leg hold and picked up two points just as the final horn sounded.
“I don’t know what to say. He had the single leg at the last second and that could have been points,” Sparks wrestling coach Ric Fehr said. “Week by week, this whole heavyweight division has been taking turns winning and beating up on each other. It’s been a battle. All we did was just focus on what we needed to do to beat who beat us. We trained for it and we were successful up until this point.”
The only other Railroader to win a match was Tymon Dozier at 119 pounds. He lost his first match, stayed alive by winning his first consolation bracket match, but then lost the next one to miss out on a chance to place at state as a freshman. The other three Railroaders went two-and-out at state.
Sparks placed 10th with 17 points.
Fehr, a longtime Reed coach who coached current RHS coach Dan Barraza, was glad to see the Raiders perform well at state.
“It’s great having someone I coached take over the program,” Fehr said. “It is a blessing. The whole thing is great. It’s good to watch Dan have that kind of success.”