With their 36-31 loss to Sanderson High School Tuesday night, one season ended and another began for the varsity wrestling Fighting Scots.
It was the first round of the 4A state duals, and despite largely dominating their match against the Spartans, Scotland’s lack of a fully fleshed-out roster played a large hand in their early postseason exit. The Scots have been at an 18-point disadvantage for much of the season due to a lack of wrestlers for their three heaviest weight classes.
The loss signaled the official swan song of Scotland wrestling’s team season, which concluded with a 26-10 dual record and second place in the Southeastern Conference.
However, the next two weeks are what many members of the Scots have been waiting for all season long. The upcoming regional and state tournaments will serve as the big stage for Scotland’s wrestlers with individual state championships on their minds.
“We may be done with the state duals, but individually we’re good because there’s a lot of talent on this team,” said Scotland 170-pound senior Nick Kee. With his first-period pin Tuesday night, Kee secured his 201st career win which is Scotland High School’s all-time record. Kee will enter the regional tournament next weekend with a 55-0 record this season and is seeking his third-straight state championship.
“This is the last few weeks of my Scotland career, so I want to go out on top and see the others on this team do well too. We need to come in and lay it all on the mat,” he said.
The Scots fell behind early to Sanderson Tuesday night, losing their first three matches to give the Spartans the 10-0 edge. But then Scotland turned on the jets once 126-pounder Deshawn Williams took to the mat, as the senior pinned his opponent 30 seconds into the second round. Williams has been on absolute fire for the past six weeks after a rocky start to his season, as he turned the corner in the final leg of the season to propel himself to a 34-14 record.
Following Williams was 132-pound junior Afiz Lateef, who continued his impressive season with a 16-5 major decision to improve his record to 46-9 on the season.
Arguably the best performance of the night came from junior 138-pounder Jessi Kee, who was paired with the second ranked wrestler in the 4A Cap Eight Conference. After falling behind 9-2 heading into the third period, Jessi Kee battled back with a reversal and a three-point near-fall to climb within two points of her opponent. With less than a minute left, Jessi Kee tied the match at 9-9 which remained the score until overtime began. And in overtime, Jessi scored a takedown to earn the 11-9 decision.
Senior Bobby Diggs (145) was next and earned a pin 38 seconds into the second period to further bolster Scotland’s comeback attempt.
And before Kee secured his record-setting victory, 160-pound senior Adrian Soto-Perez also kept his state championship momentum alive by earning a technical pin at the start of the third period after smothering his opponent in the two periods prior. The win moved Soto-Perez to a 54-1 record.
“I want to win a state championship this year, and anything less is a failure for me,” said Soto-Perez, who has knocked on the state title door the past two seasons by winning at regionals. “As for this team, all of our guys can compete with everybody, and if they remain confident going forward then I think we can upset some people at the regional tournament. I’d like to see all of us on the podium at state.”
Scotland vaulted out to a 31-18 lead over Sanderson until the last three weight classes, which the Scots were forced to forfeit. And that 18-point difference allowed the Spartans to eek out the victory and advance in the state duals.
The Southeastern Conference as a whole was ousted from the state duals Tuesday night, as number one-ranked Pinecrest also lost in the first round of competition.
There remains just two more tournaments on Scotland’s schedule, which will also be the last two tournaments ever for long-tenured coach Joel McCanna. After the season, McCanna will retire from a teaching and coaching career spanning 32 years. Coach Nicky Kee will assume head coaching duties for the wrestling Scots come next season.
For McCanna, the timing of his retirement coincides with the strong program he’s help build. And more importantly, the young nucleus he’s leaving behind.
“At the start of the year, you couldn’t have told me how far this team would’ve come by the end of the season,” said McCanna, whose Scotland squad only returned four starters (the Kee siblings, Soto-Perez and Lateef) from last season. Many of Scotland’s younger wrestlers had never attempted the sport before the 2012-13 season.
“I’m sorry that the team part of this season is over, because they’ve all grown to help support each other and make themselves better as teammates. But they hit so many milestones as a team and as individuals this year that it’s a great year for me to go out on, because we’re in good hands,” he said.