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Grapplers are state champs!



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Respect all, fear none, win big! Oxford’s wrestlers bask in the moment after winning the Division I state championship Feb. 26 in Battle Creek. Photo by Jim Frisch. (click for larger version)
March 02, 2011 - Oxford's varsity wrestling team can now add one more title to its impressive resume – state champs!

In a match Hollywood could not have scripted any better, the Oxford High School Varsity Wrestling team staged a late come from behind 26-25 victory to dethrone reigning state champ Novi Detroit Catholic Central on Saturday, Feb. 26 to claim its first ever state title for the sport.

"This weekend was amazing. The kids absolutely wrestled out of their minds," varsity head coach Brad Keeney said.

"All 14 kids had to do their job, and they did everything they were supposed to do. It was a total family effort, it was a total team effort and it was perfection on the kids part," he said.

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This was the first state title captured in any sport since the 1992 varsity football team brought home a title.

Catholic Central, who entered the tournament as the number one team in division one and had previously beaten the Wildcats 36-17 earlier in the year, was heavily favored to win the rematch, but the Wildcats pulled off what many describe as one of the biggest upsets in Michigan high school wrestling history.

"If you saw all the media about who was supposed to win, we weren't even supposed to give them a shot and we proved them wrong," Keeney said.

Keeney added it was a "homegrown effort."

"This is a family, this isn't a team of kids put together. This is a team that literally came through the club together, so for these guys to win, I think it is more special. I think it brings faith back into the homegrown team in public schools."

It's the kind of storybook ending to a season that everyone in the arena wanted to see, but almost didn't.

The Wildcats found themselves trailing the Shamrocks 25-15 with three matches left, but Keeney knew that his last three wrestlers, senior Nick McMaster, junior Prescott Line and senior Dylan Smith, were going to beat their Shamrock opponents.

"I knew that we were going to beat them up top," Keeney said. "We had beaten them earlier in the year and all the kids had to was wrestle good and wrestle smart."

And they proved it.

McMaster got the comeback started with a 7-1 victory over Jay Peterson of DCC at 215, trimming the lead to 25-18. Line followed with a 21-6 technical fall of Robert Coe at the heavyweight division.

Keeney employed a little bit of strategy when sending McMaster out to wrestle at 215 and Line at heavyweight, which was a reversal of the previous meet against DCC.

"We saw that the heavyweight had made some improvements, so we were like we better put Prescott on him because I thought we could take the kid at 215," Keeney said. "Well McMaster walked out against that kid and I could see the look in Coach Hancock's eyes that he didn't expect us to throw McMaster at 215, and the kid wasn't ready to wrestle McMaster."

With the score now 25-23 in favor of DCC, the championship match fell upon the shoulders of the littlest giant on the wrestling squad.

Smith, a three year backup at 103 lbs. and who had been nursing injuries over half of the season, stepped onto the mat against an opponent he previously lost to twice this season.

"During the 215 match, I looked back to see his eyes...and it looked like he was ready to go," Keeney said.

And he was.

He put aside the pressure of the situation and delivered a championship clinching performance, defeating Evan Toth 9-3 in a match Smith dominated throughout.

Smith admitted that he was nervous when he first stepped onto the mat, but he got his nerves under control.

"I was just thinking go out, wrestle your best and don't worry about who is watching you or the pressure on you, just wrestle. And that is pretty much what I did; I just wrestled as good as I could and just tore him up and made sure I won," Smith said.

"He wore that kid down, his head was on the mat, he was half crying throughout the match and Dylan did it." Keeney said. "It's almost a storybook ending and it couldn't have happened to a better kid."

Assistant Coach Paul McDevitt agreed.

"Dylan waited his time for many years and it's easy to give up, easy to quit when you never get to be that guy and watch everyone else get all the awards and accolades and the interviews and the coaches praise and you are just one of the guys who kind of gets ignored," McDevitt said.

"But you come in and work hard, and when you do get your chance, you take advantage of it, and that is exactly what he did. He got his chance; he's never been the star of our team, but he got to be the biggest star of the history of our program."

Smith said he knew with about 30 seconds left the Wildcats would be crowned champions.

"Right there I knew that I got this and all I had to do was hold him down and not let him get a reversal or anything," Smith said.

He added he could feel the crowd's excitement and energy grow as the match wore on.

"I could just hear it; it was funneling right through my ears and my ears were ringing the whole time because I could just hear everyone screaming. It was crazy."

According to Keeney, a key in the match was going to be beating DCC's kids at 103, 112, and 119.

He said his kids were better the last time they faced DCC, but they didn't walk in confident and got beat.

This time, the Wildcats walked in confident.

Starting out at 112, Oxford jumped out to a 6-0 lead with victories by senior Keegan Cantara and sophomore Rocco Borg.

The Shamrocks won five of the next six matches. The only winner during that stretch was Matt Frisch, who went over 200 victories for a career during the state finals.

"Matt is a special kid," Keeney said. "He is one of the hardest working kids that I ever had a chance to coach...he is very talented in wrestling and very talented in school and is a great leader."

"To get to 200 wins wrestling in division one, that is pretty impressive and Matt deserves to be a 200 win kid," Keeney added.

Frisch was humble when asked about reaching 200 wins.

"It a milestone that I wanted to set as soon as I entered high school, and I knew I could do it after my first season with the amount of victories I had then, but to me, that win wasn't as important as Saturday night," Frisch said.

Oxford went on to win five of the last six matches in route to claiming the title.

The team was honored by the Oxford Community Schools Board of Education during their meeting on Monday, Feb. 28.

"I want to say how proud we are of you guys and how well you represented Oxford all year," Superintendent of Oxford Schools Dr. William Skilling said. "You have been men of character, good role models and you just proved it again on Saturday."

Keeney said the team won with class and character, a claim that was backed up by board member Kim Shumaker.

"I watched these boys take that win with class, which they didn't receive when we were visitors against your opponents," she said.

"I really cannot tell you how awesome that is. People were stopping me outside the arena and people at the hotel came up to me and said your school is a class act, and I fully believe it is because we didn't taunt, we didn't put down. You guys shook hands and congratulated them for their efforts and did not lower yourselves to being anything derogatory to anyone else," Shumaker added.

"We are so immensely proud of all of you, it was a great weekend for Oxford and you did a great job," board president Colleen Schultz said.

Trustee Doug Myer said everyone in the entire arena was rooting for the Wildcats.

"There was Catholic Central in one corner, and all of the rest of the arena was cheering for the Wildcats. It was unbelievable," he said.

Skilling told the team that he thought it was a "Hoosiers" story.

"You overtook someone who was supposed to walk through to the championship and you didn't let them do it. And the best part is...that you are all Oxford men," Skilling said.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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