(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Heading into the championship bout of the SEMO Conference Wrestling Tournament Saturday night, it was safe to say that Sikeston senior Gavilan Bland (171 pounds) had more than one chip on his shoulder.
Not only was the state qualifier sitting on high school career win No. 99, he has also never been able to climb to the top of the podium in any tournament event.
However, if he were to do so this time he would have to go against a familiar foe, Tyler Thomure of Ste. Genevieve. A state competitor last year, Thomure was also the reigning SEMO Conference champion of a year ago.
The stage was set for these two geared up wrestlers as they stepped on to the mat to square off.
(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
Aggressive it was, as each competitor battled through the first two rounds with neither being able to get an advantage on their opponent. In the third round, after receiving a point deduction, Bland quickly tied the score back to 5-5 after breaking loose from a Thomure hold with the final minute ticking away.
While fatigue was setting in, the clock continued to dwindle as Bland knew his time was running short if he wanted to keep the match from going into sudden death. With 35 seconds left in the bout he went for his final move.
"Well he was kind of backing up so I went after him," Bland said. "I just kept shooting and after awhile he got tired and couldn't take it anymore."
With a firm grip on his competition, the powerful Bulldog managed to raise his opponent and slam him down on to the mat. Bland described the move as a belly-to-belly type slam called a saulto.
(Photo by Andrew Powell, Staff)
"It was just an outstanding effort and it was really exciting to watch."
However, the momentum of the saulto sent both wrestlers rolling. As each competitor tumbled across the mat, the crowd grew louder into anticipation to see who would settle on top for the upper advantage.
When the momentum came to a halt, it was Bland who overpowered Thomure, pinning the Ste. Genevieve wrestler with only 19 seconds remaining at the 5:41 mark.
Realizing that he was champion, Bland quickly jumped to his feet pumping his fist and giving a yell in triumphant.
"It felt great! I've always taken second, third, fourth but never won it," Bland said. "This was the first tournament in my life that I've ever won in high school wrestling.
"First time and it's my 100th win. I just love that it happened at home."
While Bland had an outstanding tournament, the Sikeston wrestling squad had two other standout wrestlers competing in the SEMO Conference.
Also in the medal rounds for the Bulldogs was freshmen, Jacob Murphy (112) who battled Zach Surque of Poplar Bluff in the third place bout.
Murphy fell to Surque in a match earlier in the tournament but managed to battle his way back through the brackets for a rematch. Unfortunately for the Sikeston freshmen the outcome would end in similar results.
"I made a lot of mistakes. It was a big loss because of districts," said Murphy. "But I'll continue to work hard and I'll have another shot at him next week."
It was a slow-paced match, with the score knotted up at 1-1 heading into the final round. As time was expiring, Surque managed to score two points on a take down with only two seconds left in the bout, allowing him to take the third place victory by the final score decision of 3-1.
"Jacob got beat twice by the same guy in the last five seconds of the match. That kid (Surque) was a state qualifier last year so he's been around," Gibbs said. "Jacob is a freshmen and he has had a good year. We just got to take it as a learning experience and get him ready to go for districts."
Sophomore Nick De La Rosa (119) was in action Saturday afternoon for the Bulldogs as well. After a rough outing on Friday, the sophomore was able to win out in the C bracket finals for home team.
"The big thing about Nick was we told him 'don't worry about winning or losing, just go out and try some different things and execute,'" said Gibbs. "We felt like the last two matches he was a little bit more aggressive. Hopefully we can get him on track and have him ready for districts too."
The final two matches for De La Rosa proved to be little contest for the sophomore. In the first bout, De La Rosa beat Nathan Bock of New Madrid County Central by pin fall at the 2:45 mark. The sophomore would then go on to pull out a victory over Farmington's Matt Evans with a 12-5 final decision.
Even though Sikeston only had three wrestlers competing, a slew of top wrestling squads from around the area really made this years SEMO Conference Tournament a great success. Teams including Cape Central, Dexter, Farmington, Jackson, NMCC, North County, Park Hills, Poplar Bluff, Ste. Genevieve, and Windsor.
"I just like to think everybody and all the different teams that have helped out," Gibbs added. "It was just an outstanding tournament and team effort by everybody."
The Bulldogs will be back on the mat Friday as they go for the pin in the DeSoto Tournament.