LOUISVILLE - The drive to the Kentucky State Wrestling Championships stayed on the main road on Saturday for Bullitt Central standouts Jeremiah Walls and Akeem Bennett as both won titles at the Region 3 meet at the Hoops Sports Academy.
With the top finishes of Walls and Bennett, Bullitt Central accumulated enough points to finish fifth overall. While the two seniors were the only regional winners, the Cougar program had six wrestlers total advance to the this week’s Kentucky State Championships in Frankfort along with one alternate.
That is the lowest finish for the program in a regional meet in the fourth seasons that Josh Durham has been the head coach. Still, he entered only eight wrestlers in the region, leaving six open slots.
“It went as well as expected,” Durham said later. “I had no real intention of that (winning the team title). It would have been nice, but I knew that wasn’t realistic.”
In the state rankings, which are not always that accurate, Bullitt Central was ranked third amongst the teams in the Third Region, just behind Iroquois and Meade County. As it turned out, Southern won the meet with 224 points while Meade County had 211 and Faidale 162. Iroquois was just in front of Bullitt Central with 139 points while the Cougars finished with 127.5.
Still, the day focused on the two most experienced Bullitt Central wrestlers - Walls and Bennett. A year ago, Walls was third at the state meet at 160-pounds while Bennett was sixth at 140-pounds despite not winning the regional title.
For Walls, ranked third in the state this year at 160-pounds, the regional was more a warm-up for this week’s trip to Frankfort. He won his championship match over Lautis Weatherington of Iroquois in just 58 seconds. That was his only pin of the tourney, but none of the decisions was close.
This was Walls’ fourth straight regional title and second at 160-pounds. He also won twice at 152-pounds.
“His tournament is this week,” Durham state of the state meet. “This really wasn’t something he was worried about.”
The senior didn’t think it was quite as easy as the scores might indicate.
“There were some good matches,” Walls said. “I just got focused for the last match.”
Walls also said that the fourth regional title was as sweet as the previous three.
“I still got the same feeling,” he said. “It still feels good.”
Walls has lost just twice this season. The state pairings came out on Tuesday and Walls could face those rematches in the semi-finals and finals.
“I just have to have a better mindset,” Walls declared. “I’m in better shape. I’ll be pretty upset if I don’t wrestle on Saturday night. Very disappointed.”
For Bennett, the day got off to a bad start when he failed to make the weight to wrestle at 135-pounds. The senior has wrestled in the past at 140-pounds, but he and Durham had wanted to drop down to 135-pounds to increase his chances at the state title. Instead, he was well above that weight class and had to move into the 140-pounds class.
This was the first regional title for Bennett.
“I was nervous because I had wrestled one of those guys and it had gone overtime,” Bennett said. “I was glad to come out on top for the first time. It is my senior year so I wanted big things.”
Now, Bennett won’t have to worry about weight this week.
“135 was tough to stay at,” the senior said. “There wasn’t anything I could do about it.”
In the final on Saturday, Bennett defeated Ethan Medley of Meade County 6-4.
Having four other wrestlers qualify for the state championships is a good thing, but none of them have any experience at that level.
“For most of them it will be a learning experience,” Durham said. “The goal for now is for each of them to win one match. If everybody wins one match then I’ll consider it a success.”
Bullitt Central junior Adam Mann had a good trip to his first regional as he reached the final before losing to Romel Giddens of Southern by the score of 13-4.
Bullitt Central had two third-place finishes. One was turned in by sophomore Matt Lafollette when he pinned Josh Gibson of Southern in the 171-pound class. At 145-pounds, junior Terry Coulter pinned Brent Weston of Fairdale in the consolation final.
Senior Patrick Underwood was a fourth-place finisher at 130-pounds.
The one Bullitt Central alternate is freshman Jacob McCarthy who was fifth in the 112-pound class.
The Kentucky State Wrestling Championships will start on Thursday at the Farnham-Dudgeon Civic Center in Frankfort. Each weight-class will have 32 wrestlers so it will take five victories to be a state champion.
The semi-finals and finals will be held on Saturday.