South Stanly wrestler wins 1A state title

Published 4:54 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2022

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Two years ago, one South Stanly wrestler got close to the goal of every high school grappler: a state championship, finishing in third place.

This season, Ranfere Garcia realized his goal of a state title becoming the fourth state champion wrestler in school history at the NCHSAA 1A state finals.

Garcia, a junior, wrestled in the finals at 145 pounds after winning a regional title the previous weekend.

Winning at regionals in the quarterfinals over Jair Ulloa of Uwharrie Charter Academy in a 10-4 decision was the match which Garcia said showed he could compete with the top 1A wrestlers in his weight class.

Head coach Michael Curlee said Garcia not only beat Ulloa but “broke his will” in the match, getting takedowns and escapes.

Because of some earlier forfeits due to injury, Garcia started fifth at regionals and “had a hard road to win,” according to Curlee.

“Everybody that was on the podium for regionals, he beat. He beat all the best. I honestly felt pretty confident he was going to win (states), Curlee said.

The event returned this season to its regular venue of the Greensboro Coliseum. Walking in to the big arena was a little intimidating, Garcia said, adding “hundreds of people are watching you.”

He started with a quarterfinals win by pinfall over Jaret Panama of Robbinsville in 3:43 despite being a little fatigued.

“I needed a punch in the face to wake me up,” Garcia said. “I was a little sloppy and not as confident. I was more cautious because I knew that if I didn’t win that match, it was going to be a hard road for me. In the first minute, I woke up and knew what I had to do.”

His semifinal opponent was Koda Blythe of Alleghany, who saw him before their match in the dressing room as Garcia was preparing.

“I think he was a little bit intimidated. So when I walked out there, I was already in his head,” Garcia said.

Garcia went the distance with Blythe, but the match was not close as the South junior won by majority decision, 15-5.

“He just tried to hit me with one move over and over again,” Garcia said.

Before the finals, the remaining wrestlers in all four classifications and the different weight classes walk out together in the parade of champions. Garcia said he wanted his mindset during the parade to be focused and not nervous.

“I heard other stories about wrestlers going out their nervous that ended up losing. I wanted to get into the zone and have an advantage over the other guy,” Garcia said.

His opponent, Avery County’s Johnathan Cable, had a 53-6 record going into the finals. Garcia took an early 2-0 lead, but found himself briefly on his back in the second period. He fought back and got Cable off balance after tripping on Garcia’s head. The South junior moved in and got the pin with 35 seconds left in the period for the state title.

Upon winning, Garcia said he was shocked and excited when the referee signaled the pin. He was confident of winning, but did not think he would be able to pin Cable.

“I felt really relieved that I got the match over with,” Garcia said.

Curlee noted everyone on the podium with Garcia at the state finals were wrestlers the South junior had beaten in the state tournament.

“He beat the best to prove he is the best,” Curlee said.

The South coach has known Garcia since coaching him in the sixth grade, adding he is probably his son’s best friend.

“It’s like he’s one of my own kids, so it makes it even more special that it’s a kid I genuinely care about,” Curlee said. “It’s like seeing one of your own children accomplish their goals.”

Curlee said he never doubted Garcia would win, saying he is the total package as an athlete. Garcia also ran cross-country for South, which Curlee coached as well; the Bulls finished second in the state this season.

“He is very intelligent, hardworking and dedicated to the sport. He’s just athletic; it’s hard to get all those combinations together to make an athlete,” Curlee said. “They come around once in a blue moon.”

Garcia is the fourth South wrestler to win a state title and the first since Cody Pugh in the 2016-17 season. Pugh won titles in 2016 and 2017 at 132 and 138 pounds, respectively, while Alex Thompson was the 2010 1A 125-pound champion and the 130-pound 1A champ in 2011. Shane Morton was the first South champ, winning the 1A/2A 152-pound title in 1993.

The newest champion said South’s program is “training us to be champions.” He said being in the elite group of South’s champions is great because “not everyone can say they won a state title.”

Regarding next season, Garcia said he wants to defend his title.

“I’m going to give it all I’ve got. Hopefully, I can become a two-time champion.”

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio has served as the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press for more than 16 years and has written numerous news and feature storeis as well. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also won an award from Boone Newspapers, and has won four North Carolina Press Association awards.

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