The Richmond High School wrestling program turned in one of their strongest showings to date at the area tournament, paving the way for seven local wrestlers to gain a berth into the state tournament. The turn of events for the second-year program surprised even the coach. Out of the seven qualifiers, one Richmond Hill wrestler, John Phifer, nabbed the area championship title for the 145 pound division. RHHS finished sixth overall, but were within merely nine points of the fourth place finisher. The state tourney takes place today at the Gwinnett Arena, just outside Atlanta.
"We did much better than we anticipated," Coach Rick Bond said. "I am very proud of these boys. They worked so hard and we were definitely the underdogs going into the tournament."
Eight schools in all competed at the area tournament this past weekend at South Effingham High School. As they traditionally do, state powerhouses South Effingham and Benedictine took the number one and two overall finishing spots, but the rookie Richmond Hill squad, filled with underclassmen, stole a bit of the glory with a Cinderella story of their own.
"I am elated with the effort that was given and the team is really excited right now," Bond said. "That’s (a state vie) what they were fighting for and this is a terrific success story. Especially for Phifer – who is merely a second-year wrestler. His championship title is a prime example of the dedication and hard work of this young team. He’s a fine young man to boot which makes this victory all that much sweeter."
In addition to Phifer, the following wrestlers notched within the top four of their respective weight divisions to advance to state: Frankie Salas (125 pounds), Steven Gray (130 pounds), Michael Zhu (140 pounds), Jacob Fox (152 pounds), David Yin (160 pounds) and Lance Owens (189 pounds). In addition to those seven, 119-pound Richmond Hill wrestler Chris Costillo is an alternate to state after gaining a fifth place tournament finish. Two of his defeats were by one point.
"We started out with 60-plus people in the program," Bond said. "That number dwindled dramatically when individuals came to realize the intensity and the physicality of this sport. Many of the ones who stuck it out ended up doing a fantastic job in this program."
Bond said the joyous results were laced with tragedy as the team received some alarming news the day after the tournament. On his way home from qualifying for state, 152 pound class South Effingham wrestler Tom Medlin was killed in an automobile accident, according to Bond.
"Our wrestling family here in Richmond Hill certainly extends our sympathy to Tom's family and teammates," Bond said. "Our hearts and prayers go out to them during this sad time."