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His dream of winning a state championship eluded Joseph Speight at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association wrestling tournament in February, but the recent Fike High graduate found redemption last month in Wilmington.
Wrestling with the Backyard Wrestling Club of Wilson, Speight captured the Junior Men’s Greco-Roman 182-pound title in the USA Wrestling Southeast Regional tournament May 25-26 at Wilmington Convention Center. It was the first meaningful tournament in which Speight had wrestled since finishing sixth in the same weight class at the NCHSAA 3-A tournament in Greensboro four months ago.
“It felt good. It felt real good!” Speight said with a grin Sunday, June 9, at Fike’s wrestling banquet at Grace Baptist Church.
Speight pinned Christian Latta of Walhalla, South Carolina, in 2 minutes, 55 seconds in the quarterfinals before claiming a 12-0 technical fall over Jake Finken of Tampa, Florida, in the semifinals. In the championship match, Speight rolled to another tech fall, this time 10-0 over Tanner Melendrez of Mandeville, Louisiana.
How was Speight able to seize a regional championship after not being on the mat every day for the last few months?
“I just knew my moves and stuff and what to do,” he shrugged and said with a grin.
Speight’s Backyard Wrestling Club and Fike High teammate Aaron Bancroft was warmed by Speight’s success.
“I’ve always wanted the best for Joseph and finally seeing it, it just felt really good,” Bancroft said.
Speight also finished third in the 182-pound class in Freestyle, which allows for takedowns below the waist, unlike Greco-Roman.
Speight lost to Melendrez 18-5 in the quarterfinals before proceeding to win four straight in the consolation bracket, including a 16-10 decision over Wesley Sharpe, the runner-up at 182 pounds in the NCHSAA 1-A tournament from Durham Voyager Academy.
Speight said he still hopes to find a spot on a college team next fall, but has a solid back-up plan in case that doesn’t pan out: Enlist in the U.S. Army.
BANCROFT EARNS TOP REGIONAL HONOR
While Speight was elated to earn a regional title, Bancroft won two. Bancroft, who became the first state wrestling champion in Fike history when he claimed the 3-A 160-pound crown in February, rolled through the 170-pound division in both Greco-Roman and Freestyle tournaments. That feat earned Bancroft the Most Outstanding Wrestler award at the regional.
He won all four matches by tech fall in the Freestyle tournament, but his Greco-Roman run was a bit tougher. After dispatching Landon Fowler of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, by 12-2 tech fall in the Greco-Roman first round, Bancroft fought to a 24-19 decision over Ryan Cody of Longwood, Florida, and pinned Vincent Galang of Arlington, Virginia, in 1:34 in the semifinals.
The championship match pitted Bancroft against NCHSAA 1-A champion Jacari Deal of Voyager Academy and Bancroft handily won 10-0 in another tech fall.
His success in Wilmington came on the heels of a less-than-stellar showing, by his standards, for Bancroft at the USA Wrestling Northeast Regionals in Pennsylvania in early May. He went 3-2 in Freestyle and 2-2 in Greco.
“The competition is really tough up there. The Southeast is a little less,” he said with a grin.
Bancroft really found some tough competition at the USA Wrestling World Team Trials Challenge, held May 17-19 at North Carolina State University.
Wrestling at 74 kilograms in the Junior Freestyle tournament, Bancroft was dealt an 11-0 loss by Shane Griffith in the first round and 11-1 by Travis Wittlake Jr. in his first consolation match. Bancroft was a bit humbled until he learned both opponents were collegiate wrestlers.
Griffith, who redshirted as a freshman at Stanford University this past winter, went on to win the 74-kilo title in Raleigh. He was the 79-kilo gold medalist at the Junior Pan-American Championships in Guatemala earlier this month.
Wittlake, who was a freshman at Oklahoma State University this year, was a multiple national champion and four-time Oregon state champion in high school.
“Honestly, I had no idea these guys were in college, so when I went out there and I got tech-falled, I was really down on myself,” Bancroft said. “Then I realized they were college guys. They had experience and every guy I went against was a national champion. So that made me feel a little bit better about myself and just pushed me harder.”
MASSEY EARNS SPLIT
While former Hunt High wrestler Jon Massey didn’t earn a spot on the USA Wrestling World Team at the Trials Challenge in Raleigh, he did manage to win a pair of matches.
Massey, who just completed his second year wrestling in the Greco-Roman program at Northern Michigan University U.S. Olympic Training Site in Marquette, Michigan, went 2-2 in the Senior Men’s Greco-Roman tourney at N.C. State.
Massey pulled out an 8-2 win over Colton Rasche of the U.S. Marines team in the first round before falling 9-0 to Travis Rice, a former NMU wrestler, in the quarterfinals.
Massey dispatched another Marine, Devin Hester, by a 5-4 count in the consolation bracket before succumbing 12-4 to eventual third-place finisher Dylan Gregerson, a rising sophomore at Utah Valley University.
A pair of Fike High rising juniors, Jayleen Bullock and Vincent Page, also posted impressive showings at the Southeast Regionals. Bullock placed second in the Cadet (Ages 16-under) 195-pound division in the Greco-Roman tournament and took third at 195 pounds in the Freestyle tournament. Page was third at 152 pounds in Greco-Roman.
Also competing for the Backyard Wrestling Club in Wilmington were Fike rising sophomore Andrew Woodard in the Cadet 106-pound class; Britain Marks, a rising junior at Nash Central High, in the Cadet 152-pound class and Brayden Waniorek of Wilson in the 10-Under 84-pound class.
LEND A HAND
Bancroft, Speight, Bullock and Page all qualified for the USA Wrestling Junior National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota, from July 12-19. However, all four will be involved in fundraising activities before then to help raise the $1,500 per wrestler to make the trip there and back.
To make a tax-deductible contribution to the Backyard Wrestling Club to help send its wrestlers to nationals, contact head coach George Bancroft at 954-651-2039.
While it took four months to finally put it on his finger, Bancroft was elated to finally get his NCHSAA championship ring at the Fike wrestling banquet last Sunday.
“It was amazing! It’s something I’ve been waiting for,” he said with a big grin.
Also getting rings were Fike head coach Brad Watson and assistant coach George Bancroft, Aaron’s father.
The state championship ring wasn’t the only award Aaron Bancroft took home from the banquet. He also got the Fike Most Outstanding Wrestler honor as well as the Lee Carroll Award, presented annually to the top wrestler in eastern North Carolina by wrestling publication The Takedown Report.
Other Golden Demon honorees were Andrew Woodard (Heart of a Champion Award), Saulo Rodriguez (Coaches Award) and Rookie of the Year (Kamren McCullen).
The last award is perhaps the most special: the Wickham Award, which is named for the Demons’ late head coach Mike Wickham, who died of cancer on New Year’s Day 2018. This is the second year the Wickham Award has been presented and Speight, who started wrestling as a freshman under Wickham, was the recipient.
“It’s not from me and George,” Watson explained. “This is from Mike because I felt, of all people, Mike would want to have Joseph to have that.”