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LEXINGTON – The last name was the same but the first names changed for Bullitt Central on the podium over the weekend at the Kentucky High School Wrestling Championships at the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park.
On Saturday, Cougar senior Mark Saunders was on the podium as the sixth place finisher in the 195-pound division. A year ago, it was his twin brother, Michael, who finished seventh at 182-pounds.
The brothers were the only Bullitt County wrestlers to secure wins in the tournament this year. Mark posted a 5-3 record to finish sixth while Michael won his first-round match, but then lost twice and was eliminated from competition.
“Having a wrestler make it to the podium (a finish in the top eight earns a spot on the podium) is always a success,” Bullitt Central head coach James Huffman said. “Michael did his best last year to get seventh and Mark did the same this year to get sixth.”
In the Kentucky State Wrestling Championships, competitors are eliminated from contention for the top two spots with their first loss. After that, in the ‘wrestle-backs’ there are a lot of matches to get one of the other six spots on the podium.
At 195-pounds, Mark Saunders opened by pinning Daylen Eichenberger and then earned a tough decision over Larue County’s Koy Lindsey in the round of 16. Unfortunately, the first loss came on Saturday morning in the quarter-finals as Saunders lost to Trevor Thompson of Conner by a majority decision (19-4).
As it would turn out, Saunders, who finished the season with a 41-6 record, would wrestle Thompson again for the fifth and sixth place spots at the end of the day on Saturday. Thompson defeated Saunders again, pinning him at the 1:15 mark.
In between the two matches with Thompson, Saunders won two of three matches. In the ‘wrestle-backs’ the senior defeated Graziani of Campbell County with a pin at the 4:16 mark and then defeated Conner Sherman of Union County 9-4. Saunders was knocked into the fifth-place match with a 9-3 loss to Aaron Stevens of Trigg County. Stevens would go on to finish third.
In the 182-pound division, Michael Saunders opened with a 9-5 decision over John Blythe of Franklin County, but then ran into a tough match against Elisiah Matthews of Campbell County. Saunders was unable to get anything going and lost a majority decision right at the final buzzer. Matthews would go on to finish second in the tournament.
In the consolation bracket, Saunders lost a tough match to Trey Jaco of Central Hardin with the final score being 12-10.
“Mark wrestled his heart out over both days and gave the 110 percent effort that any coach wants to see out of their athletes,” Huffman explained. “Though the goal is always to be the best, I feel that sixth place was earned by Mark – which is what matters most to me.”
Huffman said that the twins do not plan to compete in college. Both have opted for a military path after high school.
Bullitt Central also had sophomores Jesse Walls competing at 152-pounds and he dropped two matches in his first trip to the State Championships. It was also the first trip to the show for sophomore Megail Perkins at 132-pounds and he also lost his first two matches in Lexington.
“As for Walls and Perkins, I was very happy with their efforts,” Huffman said. “Both learned a lot about what it takes to get to state as well as the competition once there. I plan on having both back on the team next year working to get back to state and to be on the podium.”
Bullitt Central collected 15 team points from the Saunders brothers and finished 37th in the state.
“The program is looking up,” Huffman noted. “We had a great year overall and through working in local middle schools, hope to increase interest in wrestling at Bullitt Central. Though wrestling is a very technical sport, the grit and determination it takes to be successful takes time to bring out in boys. Starting them in wrestling at a younger age will help build this program for the future.”
North Bullitt senior Devin Seebold also competed in the state championships. He is the first Eagle wrestler to make back-to-back trips to the state tournament.
However, Seebold, who finished the season 20-13, lost his first two matches and was sent to the sidelines. The senior opened with a fall to Zach Phillip of Danville and then lost to Dylan Gray of Campbell County.