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SHEPHERDSVILLE – Bullitt Central junior Mike Saunders didn’t get off to the best of starts at least week’s Kentucky State Wrestling Championships at the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Making his second trip to the big show, Saunders was pinned just 1:38 into his opening round match against Kenneth Clark of Eastern High School. Unfazed, Saunders battled back with four straight wins to get back to wrestle on Saturday. After a loss, Saunders closed with a win to claim the seventh place medal in the field of 32 at 182-pounds.
The top eight wrestlers at the state meet earn medals. Saunders is the first Bullitt Central wrestler to medal since three did in 2008. Bullitt Central is the only local school to have a wrestler medal at state.
The same thing had happened to Saunders in the regional when he was upset in the first round and then went undefeated in the wrestle backs to finish third and advance to state.
“Awesome,” is the word that first-year Bullitt Central head coach James Huffman used to describe Saunders’ performance. “I am very proud of Mike and his performance was one of extreme perseverance as he had overcome losing his first match of the meet to end up going 5-2 overall.
“I feel that this being the first person to place from Bullitt Central in such a long time could really allow wrestling to get is name back here,” the coach added.
Bullitt Central had four wrestlers in Lexington last week and they all won at least one match. Bullitt Central finished with 16 team points to finish 39th overall.
“The goal of each wrestler at state was to leave it all on the mat,” Huffman said. “I knew going in who had a real shot at placing and who would struggle, but I told them all the same thing – wrestler your match, be aggressive and leave it all on the mat.”
Three of the four Bullitt Central wrestlers advanced to wrestle on Saturday and finished in the top 16 of their respective weight classes.
Mark Saunders, a junior, also lost his first match as he fell to Sam Preston of John Hardin by a 7-4 decision. The 195-pounder then won two matches in the wrestle backs by 9-4 and 12-1 decisions before being eliminated by a wrestler from Trinity.
In the heavyweight division, Bullitt Central junior lost his opening match by a pin but rallied with two wins, both by pins just 35 seconds into the matches before he was sent out of the event with a loss to a Madison Central wrestler who would eventually finish third.
Bullitt Central’s fourth wrestler in the state meet was sophomore Jared Stewart and he lost his first round match to Mitch Rusch of North Oldham. Stewart was then knocked out of the tournament with a loss in the wrestle backs.
Bullitt Central did not have a senior on the team this season and they will be stronger next season with the experience on the mat as well as Huffman’s return.
“The sky is the limit next year with the entire team returning,” the coach said. “What will push the four returning qualifiers over the top will be getting stronger in the off-season and attending camps to keep their wrestling techniques sharp.
“Along with those four, I believe we cold have another four qualify next year,” the coach said. “But hard work and dedication will be needed.”
NorthBullitt had a pair of wrestlers competing in the state meet last weekend and the green and gold finished with eight team points.
At 120 pounds, junior Devin Seebold won his opening match, pinning North Oldham’s Daniel Pennington at the 1:41 mark. After a loss to Trinity’s Keegan Duncan, dropped a match to a wrestler from Central Hardin.
In the 170-pound weight class, North Bullitt junior Zackary Sparks advanced to the second round on a disqualification before losing to Fern Creek senior Erik Pina. In the wrestle backs on Friday night, Sparks lost a narrow 7-5 decision to end his tournament.