Henlopen South Title
Publisher, Sussex County Online
Photos (from top to bottom): Laurel's Ben Ralph pushes for a near fall in his 160-pound victory, Jason Ward works on Milford's Dan Donovan in a win at 152, Milford's Jimmy Artis battles Laurel's Marc Saylor at 103, and Milford's Kris Kendzierski pins Laurel's Scott Givens at 171.
LAUREL -- Tom Pavia didn't come to Laurel High School last year with a master plan or timetable to return the school's wrestling program to glory. He was more interested in what kind of plan or timetable the Bulldogs had for themselves.
So when the former national freestyle wrestling champion took over as coach in 2002, his wrestlers asked him what they had to do to take the next step, even capture the school's first Henlopen Conference Southern Division wrestling crown in 20 years.
"I asked them what their goals were," said Pavia following his squad's title-clinching, 33-27 victory over Milford on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2003, . "They said, 'state champs, state champs, state champs', like every high school kid does. I said, 'Is that really your goal? If it is, then you have to commit, and that means off-season wrestling. We had 8 guys on Team Delaware in Fargo, North Dakota last summer, and that experience is paying off."
The Bulldogs reaped the fruits of their labors with Team Delaware last summer when Will Saylor -- a former state champion and one of eight Laurel wrestlers to compete in a grueling national tournament in Fargo, N.D., with Team Delaware -- recorded a pin in the final match of the night for the victory.
Saylor's dramatic finish in the 125-pound match capped a 5-0 record for the Bulldogs in the Henlopen South and gave the program its first division title since 1983.
Just as importantly for the Bulldogs, the victory and division title qualified them for the state Division II dual meet tournament on Wednesday, Feb. 19, and a chance to achieve the goal they asked Pavia to help them reach this season.
This will be Laurel's first appearance in the dual meet tournament. The state didn't havea dual meet tournament when Laurel last won the division title in 1983.
Saylor's pin at the 3:30 mark set off a boisterous celebration in Laurel's gym and ended a topsy-turvy dual meet that saw Laurel come back twice before Milford staged a dramatic rally to tie the score 27-27 entering the final match.
Laurel fell behind right out of the chute as Milford used a technical fall by Josh Abraham at 130 and a major decision by Keith Brown at 135 to take a 9-0 lead.
A major decision by Jameik Matthews at 140 gave the Bulldogs their first points, but Milford came right back with a decision by David Marvel for a 12-4 lead. Marvel scored five points in the third period for his 8-5 win over Jeff Downes.
Jason Ward then pulled Laurel within 12-7 with a 7-4 decision over Dan Donovan at 152. Ward won the match with a three-point near fall with 29 seconds left.
Ben Ralph tied the score 12-12 with a technical fall at 160 when he took down Milford's Ian Ferguson as time ran out fora 21-6 margin.
Milford, however, came right back with a pin at 4:56 by Kris Kendzierski at 171 for an 18-12 lead.
Undaunted, the Bulldogs won the next three matches to take their first lead of the night. First, Kiante Walker won a decision at 189 to cut Milford's lead to 18-15. Then, Eston Ennis and Zach Slatcher posted back-to-back pins at 215 and heavyweight, respectively, to put Laurel ahead 27-18.,p>
Now it was Milford's turn to come back, and the Bucs responded with three naili-biting straight decisions by Jimmy Artis at 103, Nathan Fleming at 112 and Nick Creasey at 119.
Artis used a takedown with 12 seconds remaining to nip Laurel's Marc Saylor 8-7, Fleming got a reversal and takedown in the final 10 seconds of his match with Jared Allen for a 6-2 decision, and Creasey scored a takedown with 10 seconds to go in his match with Bobby Otwell for a 6-4 victory.
Creasey's decision tied the score 27-27 and set the state for Saylor and Drummond, who was recovering from an elbow injury.
Saylor took a 2-0 lead in the first period with a takedown with 50 seconds left in the period and in the second period, got Drummond on his back and pushed him for nearly a minute before finishing off the title-clinching pin.
Laurel head coach Tom Pavia on the Bulldogs:
"This team won as a team. When we lost to Caesar Rodney, we lost as a team, and when we've won, we've won as a team. Make no bones about it, this still wasn't a great performance. We wrestled very tense, but we now know what it means to be in a big match. This will serve us down the road. Now we understand what it means to be in matches like this."
Pavia on his thoughts as the Bulldogs fell behind Milford 12-4 and 18-12:
"When I looked at this match, I looked at it as if Miliford could win the first five matches, and I knew they very well could. If they had, we'd have been in serious trouble. But Ben Ralph, that was a big match (technical fall at 160 to tie Milford 12-12), Zach Slatcher's pin was huge (for a 27-18 Laurel lead), and Jameik Matthews had a big match (major decision at 140 to pull Laurel within 9-4 early). They were all big."
Pavia, looking ahead to the dual meet state tournament on Wednesday, Feb . 19:
"We'll face Milford or Smyrna or Hodgson ... Milford or Smyrna more than likely. Who knows? Either one of those teams can beat us, and I believe we can beat every one of those teams, too."
Pavia on his timetable when he took over the Laurel program last year:
"I've been asked that a lot. I didn't look at it as a timetable. I knew last year that we had kids who were willing to commit. The kids said, 'Coach, what do we need to do?' I asked them what their goals were. They said, 'state champs, state champs, state champs', like all high school kids do. I said, 'Is that really your goal?' If it is, then you have to commit, and that means off-season wrestling. We had 8 guys on Team Delaware in Fargo, North Dakota last summer, and that experience is paying off. Once I saw them come back from Team Delaware and I knew they committed themselves to the sport, I knew we could potentially challenge for the Southern Division, the conference and make a bid for the state duals. Slowly but surely, I saw these things were feasible. We don't have any supermen on this team. We just have a bunch of kids who believe in the team."
Laurel senior Eston Ennis, a 215-pounder, on the team's goals this year:
"Our first goal was to win the South, and our second goal is to win the state dual meet. We decided to go at each match one at a time. We take each opponent and strategize against them."
Ennis on his pin, which tied Milford 21-21:
"I visualized putting him on his back. I knew I had to take it. He wasn't going to give it to me."
Laurel heavyweight Zach Slatcher on the title:
"All year, we've taken it one minute, one period, one match at a time. We knew we were in it (South race) the whole time. We thought about this from Day One. We've just been taking it one step at a time."
Photo: Laurel's Eston Ennis works for a pin his 215-pound match.
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