The last time McLean High School won the Liberty District wrestling championship, no member of its current team had yet been born. In fact, neither had McLean head wrestling coach Ken Jackson nor his assistant coach Mark Casstevens. So when they looked at their roster prior to the 2012-13 season and saw the formidable lineup they kept their dreams of a championship to themselves.
“I was afraid to even think it, much less say it out loud,” Jackson said. “I didn’t want to jinx us.”
As the season progressed and the victories over district and non-district foes mounted, Jackson and Casstevens began the process of selling their team on the notion of achieving what no McLean wrestling team had done in 35 years. It also became apparent to the rest of the district that McLean would be the front runner at tournament time. Indeed, when the district tournament started the team had three number-one and two number-two seeds, and appeared to be ready to make history.
“It had to be a team effort though,” Jackson said. “We could not do it with just those five guys winning. All 12 of our tournament entries had to contribute – and they did.”
At the tournament’s conclusion, McLean had four district champions, two runners-up, three thirds and a fourth-place wrestler. All but two of the squad would be advancing to the Northern Region tournament and all had contributed to McLean’s 191-167 victory over runner-up South Lakes High School and the first Liberty District championship since 1978.
Although the final margin of victory was 24 points, the outcome was far from certain entering the final round as McLean held only a slim 10 point lead over South Lakes, with both teams advancing six wrestlers to the finals.
At 106 pounds, Conor Grammes got the Highlanders off to a good start with an 11-0 victory over Bowen McKinnon of Stone Bridge High School to extend the team lead to 15 points. South Lakes answered back with a champion at 113 pounds to cut the lead to nine points entering the 120-pound weight class, which featured a McLean vs. South Lakes matchup. In an upset, underdog Highlander Eric Johnston fought back from a 11-5 third-period deficit and pinned Fain Anas to push the margin back to 15 points. Neither team was able to capture another championship until the 145-pound match where McLean’s Adilet Uspeev went head to head against South Lakes’ Chris Maginniss. Uspeev defeated Maginniss 5-2 to give McLean an insurmountable lead and their first Liberty District Championship in 35 years. Forrest Stieg closed out the finals action for McLean with a pin of Stone Bridge’s Josh Toal. McLean’s other finalists were Cochise Wanzer at 160 pounds and Noah Cherry at 195 pounds.
Other place winners for McLean were Omar Jacobs (fourth at 132 pounds), Nick Echeverria (third at 138 pounds), Bryson Davis (third at 182 pounds), and Sam Signori (third at 220 pounds)
All 10 place winners advanced to the Northern Region Tournament at Hayfield High School this past Friday and Saturday. At that tournament, Grammes won the 106-pound title and Stieg placed third at 152 pounds. Both wrestlers qualified for the state tournament next weekend at Oscar Smith High School.
On his way to winning the Liberty District and Northern Region titles, Grammes completed his run without having a single point scored on him. In the process he went 7-0 and racked up four major decisions, one technical fall, and two pins, including one in the finals of the Northern Region tournament against Greyson Olimpo from Robinson High School.
Stieg was almost as impressive as he had four pins including all three of his Liberty District opponents and one in the region, plus a major decision. In addition, he picked up his 100th career win during the district tournament. At the Northern Region tournament he defeated National District champion Mark Allan of Hayfield by a score of 10-4 to earn third place. The only blemish to his weekend was a loss in the region quarterfinals, giving him an 8-1 record over both tournaments. In recognition of his performance at the Liberty District tournament, Stieg was named “Outstanding Liberty District Wrestler.”
In recognition of their team’s historic season, McLean head coach Ken Jackson won the Liberty District’s “Head Coach of the Year” award and assistant Mark Casstevens won the district’s “Assistant Coach of the Year” award.