While his teammates celebrated with photos and wide grins, Rocky Mount High 152-pounder Joseph Cooper stood in the bleachers and watched.
He’s not a bad teammate. He just doesn’t like pictures. He might also might have been a little tired of celebrating.
After going undefeated through the entire regular season, the Rocky Mount wrestling team capped its Big East Conference year with nine individual titles in a rather convincing victory at Rocky Mount High School in the Big East Conference Individual Tournament.
“I would definitely say it’s dominance,” senior 145-pounder Alex Knight said. “We practice hard, very hard. Now, it’s starting to show.”
Rocky Mount won the team competition by 40 points over Southern Nash and won nine of the 14 total weight classes.
Of the Gryphons’ nine champions, seven of them finished undefeated as individuals throughout the whole season – winning at least seven matches in conference action.
Rocky Mount won at 120, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 182, 195 and 220 pounds.
The Gryphons won in nine of the 10 championships bouts in which they wrestled and were able to erase a small deficit to Southern Nash before the finals began thanks to a deep roster.
“That’s what (has) been getting us by – our depth,” said Rocky Mount coach Jermaine Jones, whose team finished the year with nearly 30 wrestlers. “... It helps because kids don’t get worn down by wrestling over and over. We have other kids that also can wrestle. It helps preserve some of those kids.”
Rocky Mount finished with 223 points. Southern Nash was second with 184.5 after 126-pounder Jordan Decosse won his second straight Big East title.
Northern Nash finished third with 120.3.
But Saturday belonged to Rocky Mount.
“Throughout our whole season in the conference, we have dominated everyone,” 120-pound champion Spencer Westcott said. “It’s all due to our hard practices and our determination. We put a lot of effort in to it.”
After Westcott scored a pin at 2:38 and Decosse recorded a 5-1 victory, Rocky Mount won five straight matches.
Tyler Brown won by pin at 2:32 and Rahshaun Elliott won, 3-1, at 138 pounds before Knight’s major decision, 11-2, at 145. Cooper held on for a 2-1 victory at 152. Then came the biggest surprise of the day for Jones.
Last year, Kenard Johnson quit the team after just a month. This year, he walked out of the gym a conference champion. Johnson upset Wilson Hunt’s Josh Sutton in the semifinals on a controversial call before his 5:04 pinfall in the championship against Northern Nash’s Kendall Branch.
“When we’re tired, that’s when it counts,” Johnson said. “It’s not how good you do when you’re not tired, but it’s how hard you wrestle when you are tired. That’s what we work on in practice.”
Devante Ricks, Keyad Coley and Jeffrey Person closed the match with decisions at 182, 195 and 220 pounds for Rocky Mount.
The Gryphons just watched the heavyweight bout.
“It’s really hard to match up with us,” said Knight, a state runner-up last year. “We bump people up, and the ones who do wrestle, I don’t want to say we know we are going to win, but there’s a confidence that they are going to go out there and do what we are supposed to do.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com