Seeking a seventh consecutive UIL state title this year, the Allen wrestling team is off to a great start.
The Eagles’ Blue Team finished first as a team at the annual Woodlands Invitational, dominating the competition to the tune of 390 team points. The next-closest squad was Katy (196.5), followed by the hosts (180).
Those results were a welcome sight for Allen, which hadn’t wrestled in a tournament setting since their annual kickoff event, the Blue versus White match, back on Nov. 11. With 10 of the program’s wrestlers earning weight class titles over the weekend, it would seem the short layoff did nothing to stop the squad from making a statement at its first event.
“We have a pretty good group,” said Jerry Best, Allen head coach. “There’s a lot of new faces in the lineup, but if they come around and start wrestling as a team, I think we’ve got as good a shot as anybody.”
The Eagles return a plethora of talent to their top 14, including state champion Juwan Robinson. The sophomore won at 138 pounds last February at the state meet, but slid up to 145 over the weekend at The Woodlands and took third place.
Sophomore Logan Brown, who finished second at 113 at state last year, was a champion in his first outing, taking down Myles Thiergood of Klein Oak in the final. Elsewhere, junior Alonzo Herrera (120) and Noah Yeamans (106) were also winners in their respective brackets.
Success didn’t elude Allen at the higher weight classes; junior Hunter Gibson was a champion at 138, senior John McCabe won at 160 and junior Evan Hackett, who made the top six at state last year, was first in the 172-pound event.
The Eagles also swept the largest three weight classes with junior Mark Inglehart (195), senior Patrick Bryan (220) and junior Nico Manzonelli (285) all winning their final match.
In an oddity from The Woodlands, the power at the gym went out during Manzonelli’s title bout. Instead of a delay, an impromptu circular gathering of cellphone flashlights paved the way for the junior to take out Cinco Ranch’s John Bentley amid a particularly unique atmosphere for wrestling.
“It was an experience the kids, coaches and parents probably won’t ever forget,” Best said. “We were wrestling in the first period and all of a sudden the power and lights went out … everybody started turning on their phones.
“We had everybody form a circle around the mat, turn their phones on and the coaches and ref agreed to go ahead and finish the match. Fortunately, Niko ended up pinning the kid about 30 seconds after that.”
On the girls side, decorated sophomore Alex Liles, last year’s state champion and Most Outstanding Wrestler, brought home the same two awards for Allen over the weekend.
“[Liles] gets better and better,” Best said. “She was pretty dominant last year … she was part of the Cadet world team this summer and we’re looking for her to continue to do great things for us.”
The Eagles did all that without sophomore Braeden Redlin and senior Dalton Miller, both of whom won state titles a few months ago.
“Two of our state champs weren’t there due to injuries,” Best said. “We’re still trying to get our team together, get healthy and then hopefully be ready second semester.”
While the Allen White Team didn’t win the event, it too had a strong contingent of wrestlers, including Gabe Martinez, David Washington, Justin Villegas and Elton Vazquez.
The team’s current projection of 14 starters is a strong one, but with football players such as Dalton Madole, a fourth-place finisher at state last year at 195, yet to return, the lineup is still in flux.
Best expects for the same type of success his team had near Houston to continue for Allen in the next few weeks, when it will appear in tournaments in Oklahoma (Friday-Saturday) and Missouri (Dec. 18-19) before getting ready for its annual Texas Outlaw Tournament on Jan. 1-2 at the school’s gym.
“We take a step up pretty much every week in level of competition,” Best said. “The Stampede is one of the toughest tournaments in the nation. I think we’ll do OK … as long as we can stay healthy and not get sick or hurt, we’ll be fine.”
Three more out-of-state tournaments await the Eagles before the District 8-6A meet on Feb. 6, where the squad will look to start its quest for a seventh all-time title.
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