On Saturday, Jan. 18, over 200 wrestling matches took place at Waverly High School to determine this season’s IAC champions. Dryden, Groton and Lansing were present among the 12 teams competing for league titles. Dryden and Groton placed fifth and sixth respectively as a team, while Lansing’s freshman-heavy team placed eighth.
Two individual wrestlers from Tompkins County came out on top, though. Groton senior Kyle Willard won the 126-pound bracket, claiming IAC gold for the second consecutive year. Dryden junior Matthew McKewin-Bates came out on top at 145-pounds for the first time in his career.
Willard won all three of his matches that day, including against two wrestlers from the overall IAC champions, Tioga. With Tioga being just about 20 minutes away from Waverly, the Tigers had the strongest fan support outside of the hosting Waverly Wolverines.
Fans were very vocal during Willard’s championship match against Tioga’s Jacob Welch, and Willard said he loved the energy of the crowd and embraced it in his 10-7 victory. Welch attempted to make a comeback in the third period, but Willard held him off just enough to claim the championship.
“I have a pretty good gas tank this year, better than previous years,” Willard said. “So, my goal was to drag him to the third period and score a lot of points then. But I ended up scoring more in the second.”
His coach, Greg Rotunda, also commented on the victory.
“That was a big win over one of the higher-ranked kids in the section this year,” Rotunda said. “He needed that for the end of the year seeding purposes. It was a good job.”
Willard moved to 28-3 for the year and even recorded his 100th career victory during the tournament. He did it all at less than 100%, too.
“I have a slight knee problem,” Willard said. “It was tough getting into awkward scrambles and situations. But I got it done.”
Moving forward in his final season, Willard wants to accomplish what he was not able to last year. His goal is first to win the Section IV championship after coming in second last year. From there, he’d like to improve upon his fifth-place finish at states and win the tournament to close out his high school career.
Overall, seven out of 10 Groton wrestlers placed in their respective brackets. While Willard was the only Groton wrestler to win an IAC championship, coach Rotunda’s son, Anthony, made it to the finals at 152-pounds in his senior season.
“That was great,” coach Rotunda said. “That’s his potential. His potential is that he can win the section if he wrestles smart. I’m happy for him. Hopefully, this is a big confidence-builder for him.”
It’s been a great season so far for the Groton Indians as a team, as they’re in position to win their division once again.
“We should wrap up our division, which would be great,” coach Rotunda said. “That would be two years in a row. That’s a major accomplishment. It’s been a long time since we’ve won back-to-back. I expect to get that done. Then, we’re onto the individual part.”
For Dryden, Matthew McKewin-Bates cruised to the finals and pinned all three of his opponents to win the 145-pound tournament. It’s the first championship victory for the junior and it all came down to hard work.
“It feels really good,” McKewin-Bates said. “I had to go out there and work hard. I had some easy matches, but when it came down to it, I had to work really hard. It just comes down to going out there, doing your thing and wrestling smart.”
McKewin-Bates only needed three minutes to pin Marathon’s Ethan Morrison in the championship match, but his position on Dryden’s soccer team has him prepared for much longer matches.
“Soccer keeps me really conditioned,” McKewin-Bates said. “It really does. It’s a lot of running because I play midfield and we do a lot of running. When it comes to wrestling season after soccer season, I’m always in good shape. I’m always ready to go.”
Unlike Groton’s Willard, McKewin-Bates has another season to build upon his success at the IAC Championships. His goals reflect that with objectives for this season and his senior year.
“I want to make it to states this year and maybe place,” McKewin-Bates said. “It’s going to be a long path. It’s going to be a lot of hard work. But that’s really my goal: make it to states and next year to place, just figure one of those out.”
The Section IV championships take place Jan. 25 starting at 10 a.m. in Chenango Forks. Willard and McKewin-Bates will be looking to build upon their IAC success and earn a spot at the state championships.
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