Although it looked as though the senior 220-pounder would have his hands full in the championship bout against Canyon Purcell of Boise High School, Empey made winning his third straight SNC title look easy.
After a first round in which neither wrestler managed to grab an upper hand, Empey deferred to Purcell who took bottom. The decision to take bottom proved to be a death wish for Purcell as only the referee’s whistle at the end of the second round allowed him to return to his feet.
“I’ve always rode pretty tough so I knew when he chose bottom that I was going to hold him down and at least get a couple points and definitely tire him out,” Empey said of the crucial turning point in the match. “It felt good to win. Obviously you want to win your senior year. This is a good accomplishment. You just have to keep looking forward and just keep working hard.”
Empey grabbed a 2-0 lead a minute into the second round as blood from Purcell’s nose for a third time warranted penalty points. A near fall with 20 seconds left in the round pushed his lead to 4-0 before the final round.
To start the third round, Empey decided to stay on top and continued to dominate the match. As Purcell tried to shake Empey’s hold, the Raider cradled him to the mat for a pinfall at an overall time of 4:35.
“He’s never been pinning guys this way,” Reed coach Dan Barraza said. “He’s always been successful and he’s always won a ton of matches, but he’s pinned about 20 guys already this year so he’s still improving. That’s the scary thing. This year he has worked on everything.
“He is just so tough and so good on top. I hate going underneath him. He’s just tough and he’s mean with the legs and good with the wings. It’s punishing. He’s just so dominant from the top position. It’s phenomenal.”
Empey’s win in the 220s helped Reed finish 23rd overall out of the field of over 80 teams with 74 team points.
Although Spanish Springs did not finish the tournament with any individual champions, the Cougars had three wrestlers place as they finished in 12th place with 108.5 points.
The top finish for SSHS came from 182-pounder Tyler Beaulac, who took fourth overall. In the third-place match, Beaulac went the distance with James Warden of Union Mine High, but fell 4-2 as Warden grabbed the win with a quick take down in the overtime round.
“Fourth isn’t horrible with all the people here, but you always wish you could do better,” Beaulac said. “This competition just makes you better for the next tournament. Everything we do is for regionals and state, so it is all helpful.”
Rito Hernandez (132) controlled the entirety of his match, earning a 15-0 technical fall to finish the tournament seventh in his division.
“I just believe in my style of wrestling and I think that it can work on most people,” Hernandez said. “I just have to stay away from making mistakes and I’ll be fine most matches. I was happy that I could get up from the bottom position. I’ve been struggling with that and I still need to improve on that, but it was better.”
Blake Nauman (138) rounded out the day for the Cougs, finishing eighth as he fell 9-0 in his final match of the day. Although the SSHS wrestler was disappointed with the result of the last match, he said there were still some positives.
“There’s a lot I learned,” he said. “I learned what kind of wrestler I need to be and I learned what works. Just knowing my opponents will help because I’ll see some of these guys in regionals and I’ll know how to game plan. I know what I have to do.”
Spanish Springs coach Joe Imelli also took away positives from the performances.
“There were a lot of good things,” Imelli said. “I know they’re disappointed because they expect more, but I’m real pleased with what I saw. They've worked hard in the room and just for them to compete is important. You can't mistake live wrestling with anything else. You get to see different styles and learn how to wrestle."
Sparks also competed in the SNC, finishing 75th overall with 17 points.