Latin Leads the Way

Young Hawks win private-school state wrestling championship

by C. Jemal Horton

The Charlotte Latin Hawks: 2011-12 N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association champions.

Charlotte Latin is accustomed to success on the wrestling mat.

During the 22-year tenure of coach Richard Fletcher, the Hawks have produced roughly 50 individual state champions and won more than their fair share of state and conference team titles, including their third consecutive Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association crown a few weeks ago.

But entering last weekend’s state meet, Fletcher wasn’t necessarily expecting to emerge on top again. After all, the Hawks counted just one senior, Luke Hedrick, among their grapplers, and many of the 17 teams reporting for the state competition looked downright overwhelming at times this season.

Charlotte Latin’s young Hawks, though, were undaunted.

And, as a result, they were undenied.

Charlotte Latin displayed a potent combination of youthful enthusiasm, season-long maturity and pure wrestling guile to win its eighth N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association title under Fletcher on Feb. 18 at Charlotte Country Day School’s Bruton Smith Athletic Center.

“On paper, this was not realistic at all,” Fletcher said moments after his team was awarded the state–championship plaque. “We’re so young, but we worked really hard in the offseason, and the kids got so much better during the season. The potential was there, but we really knew how to gel at the end.”

The Hawks totaled 179 points, just seven more than runner-up SouthLake Christian of Huntersville.

Among other south Charlotte squads, Providence Day (121 points) was fourth, Charlotte Country Day (114) was fifth and Charlotte Christian (61.5) was seventh.

Freshman Billy McClelland (113 pounds) was the only Charlotte Latin wrestler to win an individual title, while SouthLake Christian had a meet-best four champions. However, of the 35 individual matches the Hawks won during the two-day tournament, 23 came by pinning their opponents, which was more than any other team. The Hawks also won four matches by major decision, which tied for second in the field.

That’s not exactly what many people would expect from such an inexperienced squad in the biggest meet of the season. But Fletcher said the rigors of the regular season prepared his team for that moment.

“We’ve gone through such a grueling season, and the kids really aged throughout the year,” Fletcher said. “We had a bunch of guys get to finals, but only one won it, but we just came through the tournament big. It was an awesome maturing process with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. That’s what makes this so special.”

McClelland won his state title by defeating Providence Day’s Tanner Love, 6-1, in the 113-pound finals. But the Hawks’ point total was also boosted by having five wrestlers who took home second-place finishes: junior Matt Borin (145 pounds), Hedrick (160), sophomore Zach Carter (195), junior Sam Wilson (220) and freshman Tobi Okwara (285). In addition, sophomore Nick Boyd (152) and junior Alex Julian (170) finished in fourth place.

The 2011-12 Charlotte Latin roster also included Matthew Bredder, Mitchell Brexler, Bentley Dalton, Hank Ellison, J.T. Fortenberry, Jonathan Harry, Charlie Horvath, Ken Koch, George Lucas, John McGinnis, Tey McMaster, Matthew O’Brien, Alex Omerod, West Osborn, Tommy Royther, Austin Schellpfeffer, Timmothy Vorhoff and Nick Wilson.

Assistant coaches were David Paige, Jeff Wolfe and Doug Ellison. Kelly Breeney, Catherine Gore, Haley Hedrick and Kristyn Lucci were team managers.

Fletcher said his squad, which featured 10 freshmen and 10 sophomores, had a number of contributors throughout the season. But when asked what he’ll remember most about the 2011-12 campaign, Fletcher, a former Charlotte Latin wrestler himself, didn’t hesitate.

“I’ll remember how they were led by Luke Hedrick as the sole senior and how he was so selfless in everything he did for the kids and everything he does for the community and other wrestlers,” Fletcher said. “He just did a fantastic job.

“The way this group of young kids came together and just really matured and stepped up at the end was just really special, but I can’t say enough about Luke’s contributions to this program. I think when his (freshman) class started, there were 22 kids in his grade wrestling. And then with the attrition rate, it went down to one.

“He’s stuck with us and led a team to a championship,” Fletcher added. “It’s just so great.”

Hedrick, though, heaped praise on his younger teammates.

“It’s an incredible feeling going out with a title, especially when you’re the only senior and you’re with so many young wrestlers who’ve worked their butts off all season,” Hedrick said. “I’m so proud of them all. They mean so much to me. They deserve this title.”

Many of those same young Hawks were there to console Hedrick before the meet was complete. Hedrick had been favored to win the 160-pound individual title, but he fell to Charlotte Country Day’s Will Davis. The support of his teammates – and the state team title – was a helpful salve.

“I won’t forget this day,” Hedrick said. “I won’t lie to you and say that (losing the individual title) doesn’t still hurt a little, but winning the (team) title and doing it with these guys definitely helps.”

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