The McDowell Titans’ trio of warriors is wounded. But they’re going into battle anyway.
McDowell wrestlers Toney McGee, Jacob Phillips and Luis Herrera will compete in the State 4A Championships at the Greensboro Coliseum this weekend. Action began Thursday night with weigh-ins and first-round matches. The finals are set for Saturday afternoon.
All three Titans suffered injuries en route to runner-up finishes in their respective weight classes at last weekend’s West Regional in Charlotte. McGee (finger) enters the championships in slightly better health than Herrera (ankle) and Phillips (hamstring), although he is suffering from a head cold.
But all three are upbeat about their chances.
McGee (46-1) is a defending state champion who is wrestling at 126 pounds. Phillips (43-12), a 145-pounder, is a two-time state qualifier, while Herrera (49-4), 220 pounds, is making his first appearance in the championships.
McGee’s only loss came last weekend. It was a 6-3 decision in the regional final against Hough’s Caleb Kreitter. The two met last season in the regional finals, a 13-2 Krietter victory, and again in the state finals, a 9-8 McGee win. The Titans junior said he was uncharacteristically nervous prior to the regional championship bout.
“I was really nervous about it,” McGee said. “I knew it was going to be harder than it was last year. He got the first takedown and he turned me, and if he hadn’t turned me, it would have been a better match.”
But a fourth showdown between the two veterans looms on the horizon.
“I looked at the bracket, and I have one pretty good guy in the second round,” said McGee. “But if everything goes right, I should meet Caleb again in the finals, just like last year.”
Phillips, a junior, won one match at last year’s state tournament, and hopes to improve on that this time around. He’ll have to overcome a painful hamstring injury to do it.
“I think I can place this year in the top five,” said Phillips. “But it’s going to be tough to get through because in round two I have a No. 1 in the state. I’ll have tougher competition. As long as I can just stay on my feet and keep going, I’ll be OK.”
Herrera, a senior, said his teammates have helped prepare him for the spectacle that is the N.C. wrestling championships.
“They said I’d be nervous,” said Herrera. “It’s part of the experience. You just keep wrestling.”
Herrera sprained two ligaments in his ankle in the regional championship bout, but said he has felt much better as the week has progressed.
“It hurt pretty bad, but I just had to keep wrestling through it,” said Herrera. “It still hurts quite a bit, but I’m taking ibuprofen and I’ll be all right.”
As for his competition, Herrera said the regional – which featured six of the top 220-pounders in the state – was a good primer.
“I lost by one point to the No. 1 ranked guy, so I don’t think it (states) will be too different than wrestling in the regional,” said Herrera.
Note: It was incorrectly noted in a previous story that McDowell had only had as many as three state qualifiers three times in the past. The Titans have actually accomplished the feat 12 times. Last week’s regional did mark just the third time three Titans have advanced to the regional championship bout.