Story originally appears on SJS Website by Sam Chambers
St. John's Wrestling is the 2019 Texas State Prep Dual Wrestling champions.
St. John's has finished runner up for the past three years but left no doubt this time with a 43-30 win over Bishop Lynch in the final dual match of unbeaten teams. St. John's also defeated St. Mark's, Episcopal School of Dallas, St. Thomas, and McKinney Christian for a 5-0 sweep and their first Texas State Dual championship.
St. John’s Wrestling has been feeding off a Texas-size menu of just about everything a wrestling team from the Lone Star State can get. In 2013 St. John’s won their first SPC championship. Now they have five of the last six to their name. In 2016 the coveted Big Horn Duals of private and public school teams was added to their plate. In 2017 the Mavericks relished in their first State title at the State Championships (combined scores of individual results). Even with 50 All-State and All-SPC wrestlers to their credit, St. John’s is hungry for more.
“We had to prove ourselves at the SPC level, but now we expect to win SPC,” said head coach Alan Paul. “It’s also about the state and national level. We are still searching for our first All-American.”
St. John’s has also been seeking their first State Duals title. In the past three years, they finished runner-up. This year’s tournament, hosted by St. John’s on Saturday, January 19 had two rounds of team dual matches. The Mavericks won their first pool by defeating St. Mark’s and ESD. They advanced to the championship round-robin pool against McKinney Christian, St. Thomas and Bishop Lynch, the 2017 winner. While most of the matches are won on the mat, pre-match strategies and match-ups can be the difference in taking home the hardware or not.
“You wonder why we are clapping when one of our guys loses a match,” said Paul. “It’s because he did not get pinned. We practice not getting pinned. Fight off your back, stay off your back. The beauty of the sport is that you can win even if you lose.”
A pin is worth 6 points. A win without a pin is 3 points. Other strategies include moving wrestlers to the next highest weight class in order to play the percentages. Each team alternates sending out the first wrestler in each weight class. The opposing team has the option to counter with a wrestler of their choice whose performance is likely to help the cause of the team.
“If we have a hammer and they have a hammer and we know our back up cannot get pinned we will put our hammer in the higher weight class and hopefully come out ahead,” said Paul.
“You need a plan on match-ups or you can’t win in dual competitions,” said captain Harrison Fernelius ’19.
After the teams finished the first pool, the Mavericks took a break for a team meal. St. John’s assistant coach Danny Henderson, who has paired up with Paul for the past 13 years to win 208 dual matches, was drinking tea and honey from a thermos to help coat his throat from all of the yelling and excitement.
“I take this thermos of tea with me to all of the matches,” said Henderson. “It seems to be a good luck routine, started by Mrs. Daichman, one of our parents.”
After defeating McKinney Christian 56-18 in the first round of the championship pool, St. John’s faced St. Thomas who had upset last year’s champion, Liberty Christian, to advance to the top pool. St. John’s had two previous victories over St. Thomas but they found themselves in a 16-0 hole early on. John Perdue ’22 was trailing in his match but was awarded 6 points for the win on a slam violation. The Mavericks then went on a roll with seven pins, eventually winning 58-22. Paul’s game plan of losing and then winning was working, but the Mavs also gave up three pins. Could they topple Bishop Lynch and grab the title for the first time? Both teams were 4-0 on the day and Bishop Lynch also defeated St. Thomas and McKinney Christian by significant margins.
In the final dual of the day, the Mavs did not wait for a loss to take command. Michael Daichman ’21 set the tone for the Mavericks in the opening match, scoring a pin for a 6-0 lead. Thomas Chang ’21 followed up with another pin and wins by Perdue and Malcom Sturgis ’19 put the Mavericks in control with an 18-0 lead. Bishop Lynch then scored a pin to make it 18-6. Next up was the 220 weight class against Bishop Lynch’s number 1 and top wrestler in the state. The Mavericks sent out Harrison Fernelius ’19 who had lost to him in all of their previous matches. On paper, the plan was to not get pinned, but Harrison got caught in a head and arm throw, was on his back and seconds away from disaster. It would be a 12-point swing if he got pinned. Somehow he fought off his back with a perfectly executed counter and pinned his opponent. St. John’s went up 24-6.
“He did the unthinkable,” said Coach Paul about Harrison’s pin.
Roman Lewis ’19 and Ken Matsunaga ’21 followed with two more pins to make it 36-6 before Bishop Lynch responded with two of their own to cut the lead to 36-18. After Thomas Grannen ’20 won his match it was mathematically over for Bishop Lynch.
“We sealed the deal when Thomas won,” said Lewis. “After Harrison got the pin and then Ken got his, we felt the momentum.”
“Winning this was one of our goals and the first part of winning the trifecta (State Duals, State Individuals, SPC),” said Fernelius. “The secret ingredient is that no matter who goes out there they think they can win.”
A thermos of hot tea with honey might also do the trick, as the Maverick’s cup continues to run over.