Champions times four for SouthLake Christian

Eagles have best day in wrestling program’s history

by Cliff Mehrtens

SouthLake Christian Academy had one wrestling state champion in the team’s first five seasons. Wrestlers quintupled that total in one day last week.

Four Eagles – Chris Green, Hamilton Hewitt, Sam Bryant and Scott Richardson – won state championships in their respective weight classes at the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament at Charlotte Country Day on Feb. 18.

SouthLake Christian scored 172 points and finished second, among 17 teams, to champion Charlotte Latin’s 179 points. The Eagles’ four state champions were the most by any school, and Latin had one.

“From a coaching standpoint, I would rather have four champions and second place than one champion and first place team wise,” SouthLake Christian coach John Nerness said. “We will keep striving for both.”

Hewitt, a freshman, won the 138-pound division. He advanced to the final with victories by a pin in eight seconds, a 9-0 major decision and a 9-6 score. Hewitt pinned Cary Academy’s Ian Siegal in 90 seconds in the final.

Hewitt began the tournament as the No. 5 seed. He beat the No. 1 seed, Providence Day’s Matt Plaus, in the semifinals, and Siegal, the No. 2 seed, in the final.

The sweetest part, Hewitt said, was having his older brother Joe present him with the championship award. Joe, a sophomore at Clemson, finished second in the state as a freshman and sophomore wrestler at SouthLake Christian. But three shoulder surgeries cut short his wrestling career.

“Joe just worked the hardest out of anybody, and that influenced me to be the best I could,” Hamilton Hewitt said. “We’d always wrestle and he’d beat me, but he would show me moves that helped me improve.”

Green won the title in the 106-pound division convincingly, and finished the season with a 30-4 record. He pinned an opponent in one minute, 50 seconds, won by a 9-0 major decision in the semifinal, and in the final won a 13-0 major decision against Greensboro Day’s Griffin Taylor.

“Chris is a very technical wrestler with a lot of heart,” Nerness said. “Chris exhibits some of the best sportsmanship I have ever seen. He will beat a kid, pick him up and never humiliate them.”

Bryant’s championship in the 152-pound division included victories by pin in his first three matches. In the final, Bryant won, 4-2, against Wesleyan Christian’s Sam Pruett. Bryant finished with a 39-5 record.

“Sam (Bryant) has a lot of heart and works harder than any wrestler in the room,” Narness said. “Sam didn’t even place (in the state tournament) last year, but his off season training was a stepping stone to a state title.”

Richardson’s championship was in the 220-pound division. He won his first two matches with pins in 57 and 87 seconds, then beat Charlotte Latin’s Sam Wilson, 6-3, in the final.

Richardson, an all-state football lineman last fall, finished with a 22-3 record.

“Scott is one of the strongest wrestlers in the state at 220 pounds,” Nerness said. “He deadlifts over 600 pounds, and is hard to deal with because of his strength.”

Richardson and Bryant will compete Friday, Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 25, in the National Prep Tournament, which consists of 108 private schools nationwide. The event is held at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

SouthLake Christian also had third-place finishers in Kyle Summer (120 pounds) and Brian Jones (182 pounds).

Hewitt said SouthLake’s tough schedule during the season prepared the Eagles for the rigors of the state tournament.

“Coach (Nerness) gets us matches against the best competition,” Hewitt said. “I wasn’t nervous about who I was going to face. We don’t worry too much about seedings. And, having my brother there was a really big deal to win it for him.

“At the beginning of the season, we knew it was going to be a good year because of the way we worked in the off season. We were great as a team, and I feel humbled to have wrestled with them.”

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