UNION COUNTY — Four Union County High School wrestlers competed in the AAA state championships on Saturday, representing UCHS in a way their coach said made him proud.
“Wrestling is a unique sport where you have team goals, but individual goals can be met, too,” said Coach G.B. McDaniel, pointing out that most wrestlers end their careers with a loss. “A select few become state placers, and even fewer become state champs. Our four guys all had a shot at the title. None came away with a state championship, but two placed third to become All-State, and the other two gave it all they had.”
Ethan Pendleton returned to the state championship competition this year, winning third place in the 113-pound weight class, stepping up from the previous year in which he competed at 106.
“That meant tougher and stronger competition,” McDaniel said.
Pendleton returned as the Upper State Champion for the second year in a row, and this year he was ranked No. 2 in the state.
“We expected him to wrestle for the championship, but things don’t always go the way you plan,” McDaniel said.
Pendleton lost the semi-final round in triple overtime.
“It was a heart breaker,” McDaniel said. “To lose is one thing, but to lose and know you could have won is worse.”
Pendleton was winning the match with four seconds to go, and his opponent reversed him to tie the match.
“If not for a miscommunication between him and me, he probably would have won the third overtime,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel praised Pendleton for sticking out the rest of the day, winning his next two matches and taking home third place for the second straight year.
“Ethan only wrestled in Union County for three seasons, and he reached amazing heights,” McDaniel added. “It is remarkable to make state two years but it is amazing to win Upper State two years in a row and place at state two years in a row.”
Pendleton finished his three seasons with 121 wins and only 34 losses.
“That is amazing for a three-year wrestler, and he will be in the record books for it,” McDaniel said. “I am hoping to get to see Ethan wrestle at The Citadel in the near future.”
Another Yellow Jacket wrestler who brought home a third place win was heavyweight Octavius Thompson.
“Octavius Thompson really turned it on when it mattered,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel pointed out that the AAA heavyweight division was one of the toughest in the state in the Upper State competition alone.
“Just for Octavius to make it to state was huge, but he didn’t show up with an ‘I’m happy I made it’ attitude — he went to win!” McDaniel said.
Thompson pinned the No. 1 ranked heavyweight wrestler from the lower state in less than a minute in the first period. McDaniel said Thompson was confident in his chances from that point forward.
Thompson went into the semi finals facing an opponent to whom he had suffered considerable losses on a couple of occasions. Thompson lost by only one point.
“That was a point he gave the kid because of an illegal move,” McDaniel said. “Otherwise, who knows what would have happened.”
Thompson then moved down to the consolation rounds and won again, putting him in the match against a Seneca opponent — who had pinned Thompson at Upper State — to determine third or fourth place. Thompson went back and forth with his opponent before hitting him with a throw, putting the Seneca wrestler on his back.
“The Seneca guy fought hard, but Octavius put the groceries on him and pinned him!” McDaniel said, explaining that Thompson finished third in one of the toughest divisions.
“What was crazy about that was all four of the Upper State heavyweights were first, second, third and fourth. That makes Octavius’ making it to state an even bigger deal.”
Christian Petty also returned to the state championships for a second year in a row and was one win away from wrestling for the state title. Petty wrestled up a weight class this year in the 195-pound division.
“He came up a little short this season, but he had some really tough guys in his division,” McDaniel said. “We look for him to win this thing next year since he is only a junior. It is really amazing that he has been to state twice and has one more season to go.”
Luis Gallegos competed in the 170-pound division. Gallegos — a senior — began wrestling in 10th grade.
“Luis lost two matches but was winning both of them before he got caught and pinned,” McDaniel said. “I truly believe Luis would have been a state champ if he would have started in 9th grade. It was an awesome accomplishment for him to get as good as he did in that short amount of time.”
McDaniel said Gallegos possesses natural talent that most wrestlers do not.
“I am hoping he will decide to go to SMC next year and wrestle.”
McDaniel called the Yellow Jackets’ season a great one overall, as they went 26-6 as a team and won the Region III 3A championship for the first time in UCHS history.
“If all the guys return next year and have the right attitudes, this program could become the best in the state,” McDaniel said. “It will take hard work and dedication to the sport, teammates and coaches, but we could win the whole thing next year. That is our goal!”
Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, Ext. 29.