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RADCLIFF – Anderson County's final trip through Region 2 of high school wrestling was a bittersweet experience. As a team, the Bearcats finished fourth, a strong showing considering they had lost 10 grapplers off the 2012 regional runner-up squad.
But only four Anderson wrestlers advanced to this week's state tournament, to be held Friday and Saturday in Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
“I am disappointed overall but I am thrilled for the four guys that we have that made it to the state,” Anderson coach Graham Carlton said.
Junior Cody Dillow (152 pounds) and senior Alex Swartz (160) placed third in the region while Gabe McMichael (182) and Crockett Cosby (285) both advanced to the state as fourth-place finishers. The top four in each weight class advance.
Anderson had four others – Jake Brown, Chris McDaniel, Austin Phillips and Tucker Pridemore – placing fifth. They could advance to the state if one of the four who finished above them at the regional tournament is unable to wrestle at the state.
“The fact that we had four guys get fifth place shows how close they were,” Carlton said.
Making the state is a much different proposition for a wrestler today than when Carlton became Anderson County's first state qualifier in 2000. For years, there were only seven teams in the region, but with the sport being one of the fastest-growing at the high school level, there were 12 schools represented at last weekend's tournament.
“It is tough,” Carlton said. “It's not just the number of teams in the region. The overall talent level is so much higher than it used to be. Kids are wrestling at a much earlier age. They start at the elementary and middle school levels and by the time they get here, they already have years of experience.”
Experience paid off for Dillow, who will be making his first appearance at the state tournament. Down 4-1 to North Hardin's Tinker Reidling in the 152-pound consolation final, Dillow was able to make a move and score a pin midway through the second period.
“I feel like I wrestled pretty good,” Dillow said. “I feel like I could have gotten to the finals.”
That trip was derailed, however, but Eugene Grace, of Fort Knox, in the second round. Grace scored a 12-9 win, one that Dillow will carry around in the “What if?” department.
“I had him on his back a couple of times,” Dillow said. “I should have gotten the best of that. I got close to sticking him a couple of times. I should have.”
Swartz dominated his third-place match but also faltered in the second round, dropping an 8-7 decision to Dallin Tritapoe of Boyle County. Swartz recovered for two more wins, putting John Hardin's Patrick McDonald on the mat late in the third period. Swartz was leading 5-0 at the time of his pin.
“I wish I had done a little better,” Swartz said. “I had not planned on going for third place.”
However, Swartz figures to be in the hunt for a medal at the state, his second trip to the final weekend of wrestling.
“Last year was my first year of wrestling at the state and I was nervous,” he said. “Nerves got the best of me last year in the first match last year. I won a consolation match before I was eliminated. It is all different at the state.”
Last weekend, Anderson got a tough break on Friday night when Taylor Logsdon (145 pounds) suffered a concussion in his first round match against Noah Conley of Boyle County. After being checked out by an on-site trainer, it was determined that Logsdon would not be allowed to continue, in accordance with Kentucky High School Athletic Association rules. Logsdon had been expected to advance to the state. “He was seeded fourth,” Carlton sighed.
Saturday marked the end of Anderson's competition in Region 2, where perennial power LaRue County has dominated over the last decade and Central Hardin, North Hardin and John Hardin all have strong programs. Under a new alignment next year, Anderson will compete in Region 5, which will be home to several Eighth Region basketball and baseball foes but will also have Woodford County and the Franklin County schools.
“It will be tougher,” Carlton says. Woodford has long been the most-dominant name in Kentucky wrestling with 13 state championships and South Oldham won the state in 2003. Both are still perennial powers and Oldham County and Franklin County have been strong at times. But that is next year.
In 2013, however, Carlton believes his four qualifiers can advance at the state, but there are no predictions. “It is a a random draw. It is a lot of luck of the random draw,” he said.
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