After being in a close battle with Chapel Hill High School, the Person Rockets pulled away late on Saturday to win their second consecutive Rocket Invitational.
In the annual tournament, the Rockets placed first with a team score of 143 points, Chapel Hill followed closely behind with 139.5 points., and J.F. Webb (Oxford) scored 72 points for third place. South Granville recorded 70 points, George Washington (VA) registered 48.5, Halifax (VA) gained 41, Bluestone (VA) picked up 28, Bartlett-Yancey earned 18, Northern Durham came away with 11, and Vance County rounded out the scoring with four.
“To be able to win the Invitational is great,” said Person wrestling head coach Mark Litchfield Jr. “(It was) a really tough battle between us and Chapel Hill. They got us heads up in a couple of matches, but a couple late wins sealed the deal for us. Closer than I’d like it to be, but I’m still extremely pleased.”
Several Person wrestlers won their individual weight classes, with all other Rocket participants placing in the top three. Diego Jimenez won the 120-lb. weight class by pinning Tristan Yunker of Webb, Dawson Thibodeau won the 152-lb. class with a 7-4 decision over Alexander Gunning of Chapel Hill, and Karson Evans won the 182-lb. class with a 7-2 decision over Bryan Ramirez of Chapel Hill. Derrick Laycock was second in the 106-lb. weight class, Payne Garrett was second at 113 and Patrick Anderson was second in the 126. Jailin Smith finished third at 132, Alex Martinez was second in the 160-lb. class, Christian Milligan was second in the 170-lb. class, Zackery Lieske was second at 195, Mario Graves was second in the 220-lb. weight class and Marcus Vincent claimed second at 285.
“Wrestling is always a team effort, and everybody scored points today,” said Litchfield. “It doesn’t always happen that way, but it’s amazing when you get everybody scoring points.”
There were two individual matches in particular that stood out to Litchfield.
“Those late wins, especially Karson,” Litchfield said referring to his 182-lb. wrestler’s victory in his championship match. Litchfield was impressed with how he performed after the holiday layoff.
“Karson Evans came back on Jan. 1. He only had a few days of practice, and he came out here and finished first. He’s a phenomenal person and a good athlete. He’s a huge addition to the team.”
Litchfield also praised the effort of Derrick Laycock. “I think that really put us over the edge. He may not have known how important that match was.”
Mario Graves made his first start of the season for the Rockets in the place of Keith Thompson, who will be out for a few weeks.
“Mario is a huge boost for the team,” said Litchfield. “We loved to have him start his first match of the year. He could have been the difference between first or second in the entire tournament.... That was one of the highlights of the day, seeing him come from behind. Unfortunately, he lost his last match, but it’s all about the experience.”
In January, the Rockets will keep themselves busy with six matches and one tournament. At 6 p.m. today, the Rockets enjoy their first dual meet of 2020 with a clash at conference rival McMichael.
“We’ll have the next two Saturdays off, but we’ll be competing during the week,” said Litchfield. “We’ll get a couple extra days rest, which is going to be huge. Coming back this time of year, even with break, everybody seems to get a little burnt out. Hopefully, we can keep that from happening and keep everyone composed.”
While the Rockets winning their own tournament was the highlight of the season so far, it is only a small part of what Person wrestlers hope to accomplish this season.
“Being able to come back from a two-week layoff and do this is a good feeling,” said Litchfield. “I’m very proud of the boys. However, I want to help everyone understand that our ultimate goal (making the team state playoffs) has not been reached.”
In addition to how well his wrestlers performed in the Invitational, Litchfield also recognized the importance of community support, which plays a big part in making the annual tournament possible. Tournament sponsors included Pomodoro, Food Lion, MasTec, Ronnie Malone, University Ford North, Widowmaker Custom Design and Repair, Glen Hardin, John Sasser, Hardee’s, McDonald’s and Chip Williams.