By Jeff Keeling
Five Johnson City middle school wrestlers will head to the AAU state championships Feb. 26-27 as regional winners after emerging victorious in the regional meet held Saturday at Science Hill High School.
Liberty Bell Middle School eighth graders Will Mooney, Nick Lane and Tyler Seeley won championships at 152, 145 and 95 pounds, respectively, as did St. Mary’s eighth grader Joseph Frye (135). Hunter Bodo, a seventh grader, took the title at 70 pounds in a tournament that brought about 350 wrestlers, some as young as 7 years old, to town.
One of those smaller grapplers was Garrett Ferguson, a
second-grader at St. Mary’s Elementary who wrestles for Johnson City’s Admirals youth wrestling program and was competing in the bantam category’s 55-pound weight class. In a packed gym with action occurring on four mats, Ferguson squared off for his final match of the day against fellow 7-year-old Elliott Starnes of Indian Springs Warrior Wrestling.
The two were competing for second place after Ferguson had pinned Ethan Petersen of Irish Pride Wrestling in the quarterfinals, decisioned Trey Griffin of Halls Wrestling 3-1 in the semifinals and lost to Max Minor of the Bristol Wrestling Club, 8-2 in the first-place match.
The pair completed the first of three one-minute periods with neither able to score a takedown. Ferguson started the second period on top, and Starnes escaped relatively quickly for a 1-0 lead. Despite relatively aggressive approaches, neither wrestler could get a takedown from there.
In the third period, it looked as though Starnes would prevent a Ferguson escape, but the Johnson City youngster managed to score at the very end of the round, sending the match to overtime. In the sudden death first round, Starnes managed a takedown to end it with a 3-1 victory. Ferguson finished third overall.
Mooney, Lane, Frye and Seeley all look to contribute immediately less than a year from now when they begin their Science Hill careers as freshmen on head coach Jimmy Miller’s squad. This year’s sophomore-laden Topper team tied for fifth at the state dual championships last week, and qualified 11 wrestlers for this coming weekend’s state individual tournament.
Seeley, whom Miller said has a great shot at winning the state AAU title, earned his regional championship with two technical falls sandwiched around a 23-second pin of Bryson Owens (Knoxville Elite). He put up 15 unanswered points on Seymour Wrestling’s Isaiah Gorenflo in the quarterfinals, and stopped Landon Fisher (Hammer Wrestling) 16-0 in the final.
Lane pinned his two opponents, Ricardo Torres (Extreme Wrestling) and Bryce Anstoetter (Admirals) in 35 seconds and 1:06, respectively.
Mooney pinned three consecutive opponents in less than a minute each at 152: Dalton Phillips of Knox Halls in 45 seconds in the quarterfinals, David Wolfe of Pigeon Forge in 25 seconds in the semis, and Junior Diakelmad (Extreme Wrestling) in 17 seconds in the final.
Frye pinned four consecutive opponents at 135 on the way to his title. They included Anderson County’s Conrad Donlan in the first round (22 seconds); East Tennessee Wrestling’s Jaylyn Baker in the quarterfinals (2:34); Knox Elite’s Eli Smith in the semifinal (39 seconds); and Seymour Wrestling’s Joshua Hoffman in the final (1:46).
Bodo, the seventh-grader, was 2-0 and pinned his finals opponent, Heritage’s Christian Jones, in 42 seconds.
Miller said the Admirals Club, headed by Martin Frye, is developing younger wrestlers with coaching techniques that align with those at Liberty Bell and Science Hill. Longtime Topper head coach Jeff Price took over the Liberty Bell program several years ago.
It all has Miller bullish on the future of Science Hill wrestling. “We have a great eighth-grade class coming in, with Lane, Seeley, Will Mooney and probably one or two more,” Miller said. “We’d love to average four to five superior wrestlers in each freshman class coming in. If we can do that, there’s no reason – if I’m doing what I need to for us – that we shouldn’t be able to be in the hunt for the top four in the state most years.”
Give him about seven years, and perhaps Garrett Ferguson will be one of those superior wrestlers moving up to compete at Science Hill.