The Spencer wrestling team brought home its first traditional state individual title in more than 20 years and went through its duals schedule nearly undefeated, leading area coaches to vote 112-pound Class AA state champion Quintni Noel the Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City Wrestler of the Year and Greenwave coach Robert Sanders the All-Bi-City Wrestling Coach of the Year.
Despite the glorious ending to his senior season, Noel said he began the year disappointed and with his confidence sagging.
“Early in the season, it was kind of tough for me,” said Noel, who is committed to Darton College in Albany, Ga. “I lost a few tournaments and came in second place, and I really didn’t think I was going to win state. My head was hanging low after those tournaments.”
But Noel found motivation in seeing himself improve each week and went on to win his weight class at the city championship and area tournament before wrestling his way into the state final.
In the moments before the championship match at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga., Noel said he saw the culmination of every minute he had spent practicing for the previous four years.
“Before the last match, I was just thinking that I finally made it here after wrestling all these years,” Noel said. “I made it exactly where I wanted to be, and I wasn’t going to let anyone get in my way. I wasn’t coming back from Gwinnett without a championship.”
Noel pinned Dawson County’s James Evans in 3:39 to close his season with the state title that had eluded him the previous two years at the tournament and with what he and his coach called the most flawless effort of his career.
“I think it was the perfect match,” Noel said. “I didn’t give him any points to score, I wrestled top, bottom and neutral all perfectly, and I had a very good game plan. I knew exactly what I wanted to do the whole time.”
Sanders fostered program
Noel is hardly the season’s only success story out of Spencer. Sanders led his team to a berth in the state duals championship, qualified seven wrestlers for the traditional state championship and coached Noel to the area’s only state title in 2011.
All of his success goes back to the effort he has put into fostering the program, he said. Four years ago, there were fewer than two dozen wrestlers. In 2010-11, there were more than 40, adding the level of depth and experience the program needed to thrive, Sanders said.
“We had a good nucleus of seniors return this year, and most of them went to summer camps and just get better and better,” Sanders said. “Plus, the newer kids learned the system really quickly and added depth to our team, which gave us a lot of opportunities to win.”
And even with the level of success Sanders’ teams already have achieved, the coach sees his program’s momentum snowballing.
“With the numbers increasing the way they have and with the group we’ve got coming back, I see bigger and better things for this team,” Sanders said. “The more exposure and the more competition they get, the more these kids can take it to another level.”
Chris White, 706-571-8571; follow Chris online at twitter.com/le_chriswhite and at facebook.com/lechriswhite.