SOCASTEE — Its likely the last opportunity the Braves will get to stick it to their rival North Myrtle Beach as a member of Class AAA, and the Braves enjoyed every moment of it.
When people think rivalry they think football, basketball that stuff. But we all know one another, do we like to beat up on each other? Absolutely, said Socastee coach Jeff Gibbins after his teams thorough 67-12 victory over the Chiefs on Tuesday at Socastee High. But as far the rivalry goes, thats just one for us, a lot for them. The teams performance tonight was great; wrestling North Myrtle Beach at home was a big advantage."
Led by defending state champion Justin Knipper, the Braves (13-0) netted nine pins in 12 possible decisions en route to the victory; seven of those pins came in the first round.
His natural ability sets him apart, mixed with the technique and the way we run our room, said Gibbins of Knipper, who is ranked No. 1 at the 126-pound class in AAA, and pinned Jackie Ward of North Myrtle Beach in 3:07. He takes charge of the match, and hes always a step ahead.
The result, though, was not representative of North Myrtle Beachs true depth. First-year coach Amos Collins said his squad was missing seven of its varsity wrestlers due to suspension after he found they violated team rules.
The positive is, the [suspended wrestlers] are going to show up to my practice or they wont wrestle, he said. We wrestled our best team out there today, a lot of our JV guys showed up and wrestled well against the No. 3 team in the state The last thing I wanted to do was sit any of my guys, especially coming down to Socastee.
The highlight for the Chiefs came with Christian Coppola, who is ranked No. 4 in AAA in the 106-pound division, who pinned Socastees Eugene Utley in the second-to-last match of the evening.
It shows you where were at, Collins said, noting that he is only losing two seniors from this years squad. Weve got a couple good wrestlers, but were really young.
Despite the Chiefs lack of depth, though, Gibbins said a win is a win for his No. 3-ranked Braves squad. His experienced group, including Zach Mor (No. 1 in 3A at 182 pounds) and Kyle Burton (No. 3 at 285 pounds), is seeing Knipper wrestle at a heavier weight, having jumped from 106 to 126.
It just kind of came to me, its really not that different, Knipper said, noting that he usually weighs 120 pounds when wrestling. The kids are bigger, but I like wrestling bigger kids. I think Im doing pretty good right now, just keep working hard in the room and I think I can do it again.
Knipper said it feels good to go around the AAA circuit one last time, and the sound victory was a good way to finish out their last match with North Myrtle before being bumped up for his senior season.
Its pretty good, he said. Its going to be a lot different, different teams, a whole different region were going to wrestle. So its going to be a fun experience.
It was a coincidence that Quin Gammon went on last in a rivalry match, but the explosive reaction to the crowd favorites pin to end the night wasnt.
Tonight it just happened to work out so the main event came on last, said Gibbins. When I took over the program a couple years ago, whenever she was on the mat it was the only time we were a real team. Weve kind of built the team around her.
The senior said shes used to the reaction, but shes also used to people underestimating her because shes a girl; in fact, she often uses it to her advantage.
If I get overlooked its easy for them to think they can just run over me, bulldog me around, Gammon said. but it doesnt work out sometimes.
Gammon, whose junior brother, Logan, is also a varsity wrestler, said she comes from a wrestling family its in her blood.
Most people watch football, my family watches wrestling. Thats our sport to watch, she said, noting that her family moved to South Carolina from Iowa when she was 3. I grew up with it. I saw an opportunity to start wrestling when I was in middle school and so I just started.
Its the last season for the Socastee 116-pound wrestler, but she said she wont get tired of reactions like the one she got from the crowd when she pinned North Myrtle Beachs Robert Lombard in the first round on Tuesday.
Its rewarding. Thats what this sport is about, she said. You have your tough times with dieting, conditioning, working out. It all pays off right there.
Second-year Braves wrestler Joe Smolenski said the sheer look of intensity on his face as he walks up to his opponent isnt overconfidence; its actually the opposite.
Honestly, I have performance anxiety so if I dont think about winning the match I get nervous and start shaking and I mess up, he said. So [that look] kind of just happens.
Whatever it is, the hulking senior who cut down to 195 pounds this year didnt seem nervous during his 31-second pin of North Myrtle Beachs Buddy Thompson.
It was about this time last year, about January, that I got into [wrestling], he said, competing at the 285-pound weight class at the time. I liked it, so I lost some weight, got down to the 195 and stuck with it.
Smolenski may only be getting started when it comes to wrestling, but his goals arent small. The senior, who also played football for the Braves this year, spent the summer working with coaches, attended camps at Ohio State and in Georgia to get his technique and form in check, and hopes he can go straight to the top.
I want to win a state championship, I wont accept anything less, he said.
• 106: Christian Coppola (NMB) pin Eugene Utley, 2:24; 113: Quin Gammon (Soc) pin Robert Lombard, 1:34; 120: Dylan Martin (Soc) pin Codie Aube, 3:26; 126: Justin Knipper (Soc) pin Jackie Ward, 3:07; 132: Logan Gammon (Soc) pin Harper Tribou-Newber; 138: Jordan Hodge (Soc) pin Adrian Avlos, 1:05; 145: Brad Melnytskyy (Soc) def. Rohan Reed 13-2 (MD); 152: Sam McKinney (Soc) won by forfeit; 160: John Leggett (Soc) pin Cortez Anderson, 1:43; 170: Andrew Baddo (Soc) pin Alonzo Stevenson, :31; 182: Zach Mor (Soc) pin Ethan Duffey, 1:05; 195: Joe Smolenski (Soc) pin Buddy Thompson, :29; 220: Jevon Carneige (NMB) won by forfeit; 285: Kyle Burton (Soc) def. Reasean Diggs 2-1 (D).
Contact JEFF NOWAK at 444-1767.