Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local Sports

February 14, 2014

Harrod, Smith win individual titles at state wrestling meet, Raider team finishes fourth

MACON — As a second place finisher in the GISA State Wrestling Meet last year, Lance Harrod was known around the state as one of the top wrestlers in one of the toughest weight classes. That was not good enough for Harrod, and on Saturday in Macon the senior leader stood at the top of the podium as the state champion of the 285 pound weight class. Thanks to Harrod and junior Cauldin Smith’s individual state titles, Southland was able to bring home a fourth place overall finish with a very strong group of young wrestlers who will undoubtedly challenge for the team title next season.

Harrod got his senior state tournament off to a great start with two wins to advance to the final against Pinewood Academy’s Nolan Cleary. After dropping the championship match to Westfield wrestler Ty Forrester last year, Harrod made sure that there was not a repeat this year by making quick work of Cleary to claim the 285 weight class state title.

Harrod, who recently signed a football scholarship with Point University, said winning the state title in wrestling was definitely one of his top accomplishments in high school.

“It’s up there near the top. I’ve been up there fighting for that for three years, and I should have won it least year, so to go in and finish it in under 30 seconds was pretty neat,” he said.

Head Raider wrestling coach Mike Smith said that Harrod’s leadership was one of the driving factors in Southland’s region title and strong run at the state meet.

“Lance brought a ton of leadership to our team,” Smith said. “We picked Lance up in the tenth grade. He was a leader on the football field so I expected no less on the wrestling mats. He came on as a leader and knew his role. He worked with the junior high and built them up. He worked just as hard as anybody out there, and when your leader does everything and leads on the mat and off the mat it helps your team.”

Although he is not a senior, Southland also had another veteran leader bring home a GISA State Title in Cauldin Smith. In the state meet, Smith defeated Pinewood’s Hunter Burson in the quarterfinals and Westfield’s Zach Johnson in the semifinals to earn a championship appearance against Robert Toombs Christian Academy’s Garrett Gray. Like Harrod, Smith also dominated his final meet, and after taking down Gray, Smith also earned the opportunity to stand at the top of the podium as a state champion of the 195 pound weight class.

“It feels good, and it was long overdue,” Cauldin said. “Right after the match I felt like all of that work I did finally came to that moment.”

Two other talented wrestlers also advanced to the championship match before earning their first defeat to finish as the runner-up in their weight class. Ryan Landreth, who won the 2012 GISA State Championship in the 133 pound weight class, won two matches against Unity Christian’s Collin Espy and Westfield’s Ben Brooks before dropping the 138 pound weight class championship meet to Tiftarea’s Zach Willis.

The other runner-up for Southland came in the 182 pound weight class where Colt Stephens was edged out by Bulloch Academy’s Dylan Stuckey in the championship match. As the number one seed from Region 4, Stephens and Stuckey (the number one seed from Region 3) were on a crash course for the championship match before the meet even started. Although Stephens won three matches at the state tournament for the second year in a row, he had to settle for a silver medal after being narrowly out-dueled by Stuckey in the championship match.

The Raiders also got a pair of fourth place finishes from freshman Billy Calcutt in the 120 pound weight class and senior Clay Copeland in the 220 pound weight class. Junior Hood Souter also added a sixth place finish in the 160 pound weight class for Southland.  

“We had a lot of young guys on the team and they all worked pretty hard,” Harrod said. “We had two seniors and four juniors and we all came out and led the team and finished at the top. That’s all they need next year is the leadership and if they keep that up they will have a good year next year too.”

Coach Smith echoed his senior leader’s statements when asked about Southland’s unprecedented success on the mats over the past decade.

“Wrestling is a sport where you have to produce your competitors. We have to go through the hallways and find kids that will give us a chance. It’s hard to get the kids out with not much knowledge of the sport. The biggest asset that we have is having a full weight roster,” he said. “We knew coming in that we were going to build our team around our top four wrestlers. We knew we had to have three or four first time wrestlers that had to wrestle in varsity weight classes, but with the guidance of these four the first year wrestlers came along well and got us some points for state.”

Smith said that every season the goal is to have a realistic opportunity to take the state title, and this year was no different.

“We finished out about where I thought we would. We had an outside opportunity to challenge for state, and really that’s all you want,” he said.

With Smith, Stephens, Landreth, Calcutt, and Souter returning to lead a talented group of underclassmen next season, Southland figures to be just as strong in 2014-15.

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