Boys wrestling: Liberty pins down three state championships

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At the rate things are going, the Liberty Christian Warriors are going to start having trouble displaying all the championship banners they are accumulating.

Over the past three weeks, the Liberty wrestling team has brought home three state-level titles — a prep dual state championship, a prep state championship and the TAPPS state title.

Later this month, eight members of the squad will be competing at the National Prep Championships.

On Jan. 25, Liberty won the prep dual state championship at a team-format tournament. The following week, the Warriors were in Houston to compete in the Texas Prep State Championships, and grabbed the title by a margin of 6.5 points over defending champion Houston St. Thomas and Addison Trinity Christian.

Last weekend, Liberty completed its three-week run by claiming the TAPPS championship at St. Thomas.

Liberty coach David Hughes, in his fourth year with the Warriors and third as head coach, remembers his first experience at the state prep tournament four years ago.

“I’m definitely surprised we’ve reached this level this soon,” Hughes said Wednesday. “Every year we’ve gotten closer. The kids were getting more excited, and more were joining the program.”

Hughes looks to a night in late January as a turning point for the program.

“We were in a dual meet at [Justin] Northwest on Thursday, Jan. 23,” Hughes said. “We had beaten them earlier in the year, but that night we were just horrible. It was the worst we had been in competition all year long.

“The following day we had a team meeting — kind of like a come-to-Jesus meeting — and that was when we came together as a team. We talked about being accountable and supporting one another.”

On Jan. 25, Liberty competed in the Prep Dual State Championships in McKinney and walked away with the team crown.

“I saw more individual support in this meet by our kids than I had ever witnessed before,” Hughes said. “They really came together, and at this point I believe they started to realize what they were capable of doing if they stuck together.”

One week later, Liberty battled 21 other schools at the Texas Prep State Championships and claimed the team title while qualifying eight wrestlers — through top-three finishes — for the prep nationals.

Dawson Parker brought home Liberty’s only individual state title by winning the 106-pound class, and Liberty had four second-place finishers: Paul Barbaro (113), Chase Roth (120), Dawson Neal (132) and Gage Reesor (138). Third-place finishes went to Tanner Terry (126), Austin Mann (182) and Weldon Whittle (220).

With two championships in two state-level tournaments, Hughes said, pressure was building on the Warriors heading into the TAPPS meet.

“We really wanted to do well at the TAPPS meet for the school and the program, and the team was really feeling the pressure from the past two weeks,” Hughes said. “I can’t say enough about the team and the way they competed. I am extremely proud of them. We preached to the boys that they had to stay hungry and that we had a target on our back and teams were coming after us.”

Hughes’ pep talk paid off as the Warriors claimed three individual state titles and had 13 of 14 wrestlers finish in the top four.

Parker (106), Roth (120) and Reesor (138) won state titles. It was the third straight year that Reesor came away from the TAPPS meet with a state crown.

Avrey Webb (145), Garrett Sawyer (170), Whittle (220) and AJ Seely (285) had second-place finishes. Barbaro (113), Terry (126), Neal (132), Matt Marrs (160) and Mann (182) earned third-place finishes, and Christian Palmer (195) was a fourth-place finisher.

“It was an amazing day for the team and for the school,” Hughes said. “The boys competed great and didn’t give in to adversity.”

Liberty now gets a weekend off from competition before heading to Lehigh University for the Feb 21-22 national tournament in Bethlehem, Pa.


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