OKLAHOMA CITY — Piedmont head wrestling coach Erik Ford has had a quiet confidence about his team all season.
Friday and Saturday at the regional tournament at Western Heights, his Wildcats proved that confidence correct, punching through a program-record 10 wrestlers to this week’s state tournament at State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City.
“We just got on a roll,” Ford said. “In the consolation semifinals we won six in a row and six out of nine total. We wrestled well all weekend.”
Aria Mazroy (106) was fourth, Logan Chappell took second at 113, Mitchell claimed first at 120, Bard Appleton was fourth at 126, Kade Sparks third at 132, D.J. Hendrickson took first at 138, Alex Cardenas was fourth at 145 and Wyatt Lewis was fourth at 152. At 160 pounds, Michael Brown took third and at 195 Tyler Banks was a regional champion.
Dylan Meador, Justin Brooke and Will Heinselman finished fifth and will all serve as alternates in case of an injury to a qualifier.
Only Coweta (12) and Collinsville (11) qualified more wrestlers for state. Altus will also send 10 while Lawton Mac has 9. That means Piedmont could, potentially, factor in the team title race.
“We hope so. We still have to have one really good weekend of wrestling and maybe have a couple surprises get on the podium,” Ford said. “But if you take 10 in, you at least have ammo.”
Banks hopes his team can surprise favorites like Coweta and Collinsville.
“I think there’s 10 of us that are all going to go out and prove ourselves,” he said. “They’re going to see Piedmont and it’s not going to be what everyone is expecting.”
Banks healthy, aiming for state title
It didn’t seem like anything could slow down Tyler Banks earlier this season. The 195-pound senior bullied his way to tournament and dual victories by the handful.
Then, in perhaps his most important match of the season at Dual State, Banks’ right ankle gave out. The high ankle sprain cost him that match, but luckily, the senior regained his health in time to claim first at regionals. Now 33-6 overall, he heads into state with his momentum, and health, regained.
“It definitely wasn’t what I wanted. It scared me whenever I first went down,” he said. “Once I found out it was just a sprain I knew I had to tape it up and push through it. There’s no time for a break now.”
Top-seeded Banks says he’s 100 percent heading into action Friday, when he’ll wrestle Beau Wooden of Skiatook. If Banks can successfully navigate his side of the bracket, he could face Tulsa Bishop Kelley’s Matt Smith, who beat him at state last season.
“I’m not the same guy I was last year,” Banks said, mentioning he’s on a ‘revenge tour this season’. “But I’m going in with the mindset that I don’t care who’s in front of me. I just know that they’re going to get a match they better be ready for.”
Appleton takes unique road to state
Among the first-timers at state for PHS is senior 126-pounder Brad Appleton. Appleton, who quit wrestling after his freshman season then came back out again this year, took fourth at regionals to qualify.
“I like the fact that I qualified as a senior just to finish the year out strong,” he said. “I was kind of worried I wasn’t going to make it, but I saw the kid and kept telling myself I won the match before I even wrestled.”
Appleton won by pin in the second period to clinch his spot in Oklahoma City, completing a unique journey from not wrestling at all as a sophomore and junior, to perhaps earning a medal this week at state. Appleton says he’s been as a fan to watch the state tournament before, and though he expects this trip to be different, hopes to treat it like any other tournament.
“It’s a pretty cool environment,” he said. “I’m just going to take like it any other match and focus on who’s in front of me. I need to not worry about who I’m wrestling and worry about how I’m wrestling.”
As for his renewed interest in wrestling, Appleton thanks fellow senior Tyler Banks for convincing him to come back out for the team this season.
“We’ve been friends all of high school and he was really good as a freshman,” Banks said of Appleton. “I told him, ‘we need you in there. I think your reason is, you need to get in here, because you being in the wrestling room will change your life.’ Ever since he’s been in here he’s been a different kid.”
In his first match, Appleton will face Reece Witcraft of Coweta, who is 16-0 this season.