Feb. 24—A Southeast Whitfield High School wrestler had not won a state championship in seven years.
This year, they got two.
Jose Leon and Riso Webb won Class 4A championships in the 220-pound and 126-pound weight classes, respectively, at the Georgia High School Association Traditional Wrestling State Tournament earlier this month in Macon. Two state champion wrestlers in the same season is a school record for Southeast.
“After I won mine, I found Jose and told him to win his,” Webb said. “Let’s make school history.”
Meanwhile, across town at Dalton High, a wrestler who is no stranger to winning state championships added another accomplishment in his final wrestling campaign.
Hunter Noland won his third consecutive individual state title at the state meet on Feb. 12, taking home Class 6A’s 145-pound division. After faltering in the state meet as a freshman, Noland set his sights on winning in each of his remaining years. He did just that.
“Losing as a freshman was tough, but I think it gave me the drive to move forward,” Noland said. “I said then that I was going to win the rest of them.”
Noland takes his winning streak into college, where he’ll wrestle at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Leon and Webb both say they hope to wrestle in college, but haven’t yet decided where.
Webb, who placed fourth last season in the 120-pound division, is proud to finally be called a champion.
“This has been something I’ve been working toward for 12 years,” Webb said. “It feels good to finally get there.”
When Leon reached the finals this year, he faced a familiar opponent. It was Zachary Brown from Heritage in Ringgold, a fellow member of Region 7-4A that Leon had lost to two times already this season.
This time, Leon earned the victory in a 3-1 decision.
“When I beat him, it was just relief,” Leon said of the finals matchup. “I beat him when it counted.”
Southeast had another history-maker at the state meet, although she didn’t win a state championship.
Teonna Bonds placed third in the 225-pound weight class at the state meet this season. The girls competition is only in its third season, and Bonds has placed in all three. She’s the only female wrestler from any school in Whitfield or Murray counties to place at state in the competition’s first three years.
“Not a lot of girls have done this,” Bonds said. “I wish I could have won one, but I’m excited to see the sport grow.”
Scheduling is already tough in the infancy of girls wrestling in the state, and it was made even more of a challenge this year with COVID-19. Bonds wrestled just 10 matches this season.
“At times, I felt unprepared,” Bonds said. “But I fought through it.”
The virus had its effects on Leon, Noland and Webb, too.
Webb sat out from competitions for about two months, and Southeast limited wrestlers to only one practice partner to try to reduce potential contact to the virus amongst teammates.
“During practice, we could only stick to one partner, so that was limiting,” Webb said. “If they were out, you couldn’t do a whole lot.”
“You couldn’t really go up against people with different styles in practice,” Leon said.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the state champion wrestlers persevered.