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In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the St. Stephens wrestling team, the Indians produced three state qualifiers.
Bradley Bader, Blake Rogers and Ian Martin will each vie for a state title when the NCHSAA individual state championships start Thursday.
Indians coach Billy Baker said the wrestlers worked hard this offseason to earn their postseason appearances.
â€śThese are the lowest number of wrestlers weâ€™ve had in my 13 years at St. Stephens, but the three we got state-qualified deserve to be there,â€ť Baker said. â€śTheyâ€™ve all worked hard and all have big goals this season.â€ť
Rogersâ€™ season almost never happened.
The 106-pound junior injured his knee, had surgery in August and missed half of his teamâ€™s regular season.
He fought back to finish 27-5 on the mat, qualifying for the state championships for the second-straight year.
The junior hopes to improve on his second-place finish a season ago.
â€śI had a pretty quick recovery from injury,â€ť Rogers said. â€śI came back in to practice, went after it real hard and made sure I took care of my knee. I got real focused. I busted myself every day to work as hard as I could. I think if I can keep myself healthy and keep the determination, I think I should do pretty good at states.â€ť
Driven by a runner-up finish of his own, 113-pound senior Bradley Bader said heâ€™s put in more effort this season than any one prior.
â€śMy season so far has been nothing but hard work and practice,â€ť he said. â€śIâ€™ve been focused on doing good in practice and not cutting weight, but more about getting better in the wrestling room. Iâ€™ve been taking that out to the mat during matches.â€ť
The hard work paid off, as Bader finished second on the team in wins (34).
Itâ€™s a transformation that Baker said he never really expected to see.
â€śBradley didnâ€™t start wrestling until he was in the eighth grade,â€ť Baker said. â€śI was doing some remodeling work on his parentsâ€™ home. He had just been cut from the football team and didnâ€™t weigh but about 83 pounds. I told him that I expected to see him out for wrestling in November. Never thought Iâ€™d see him there, but he sure enough came out. Now, heâ€™s been a three-time state qualifier.â€ť
Then there is Ian Martin.
The 138-pound senior was a fourth-place finisher at states in 2011 and ended last season with a record of 48-7.Â
This season, he has won a team-high 49 matches, losing twice during the season.
â€śIan has come a long way,â€ť Baker said. â€śHe missed qualifying for states as a sophomore, came back and finished fourth last year. He has worked very hard.â€ť
Seeing one of his close friends claim the 138-pound title last year motivated Martin to rededicate himself for his senior campaign.
â€śI got to see (Hibritenâ€™s) Scottie (Hardiman), one of my friends that I wrestle with a lot, win at my weight class,â€ť Martin said. â€śIt was depressing almost because I beat him in the regional finals. All the respect to him, but I just wished I could have seen him in the finals. Thatâ€™s what I want this year â€” to be in the finals.â€ť
The last Indian to win a state wrestling championship was Ray Farnsworth, who defeated Havelockâ€™s Christian Holleman last year in the finals of the 119-pound weight class.
All three wrestlers hope to repeat Farnsworthâ€™s success.
â€śIâ€™ve tried to follow in his footsteps,â€ť Bader said. â€śI found myself in wrestling. Iâ€™ve always tried to wrestle like him. Now Iâ€™ve developed his style into my own. If it wasnâ€™t for him winning states, I wouldnâ€™t be so dedicated to win.â€ťView more articles in: