By Kevin Eickman
The clock was ticking down in the title match of The DIAA Individual Wrestling match at 120 pounds. Holding on to a slim 3-2 lead, Milford sophomore Jack Thode was trying to stay smart and aggressive at the same time. Battling against highly regarded Dylan Knight of Caravel, the match was a tactical battle that Thode was bound and determined to win.
“I lost in the finals last year and Knight is a really fantastic wrestler. I didn’t want to come up short this year and I knew if I made a mistake he [Knight] was going to jump on it,” said Thode. “In the end it was really about keeping my composure and being smart.” Thode hung on to gain the State title and was very happy with the accomplishment. “It took a lot of work to get here and I couldn’t be more thrilled or satisfied with the title,” he said.
The victory came on the heals of three weeks of tournament wrestling to conclude the season, including the Bucs second place finish in the D-I State Duals at Smyrna, the Henlopen Conference Championships at Milford and finally the Individual Championships at Cape Henlopen. When asked if he was looking for a little rest, Thode gave an interesting response.
“I don’t know what rest is. This is a sport where you are working all the time, there is no off-season,” Thode commented. “The bottom line is you are always trying to get better, to find that extra edge to make you a better wrestler.”
Milford also had a pair of second place finishers. Senior Anthony Diaz faced a rematch with Caeser Rodney’s Kevin Hudson, who Diaz bested in the Henlopen title final the week before. In a tense affair, Hudson was able to turn the tables on Diaz. While the 4-2 loss left Diaz heartbroken, he also knew that it was not going to be easy to defeat Hudson two weeks in a row.
“Kevin is a great wrestler who came in with a solid game plan. It came down to him getting a take-down and me being unable to get the points back,” said Diaz. “I have been a part of so many great things as part of this wrestling program, this isn’t the way I wanted to go out. But in the end, when I look back at my career here, I have to be proud of what I have accomplished.”
With regards to Diaz, Milford coach Don Parsley offered high praise for him. “Anthony has been an anchor for this team the entire time he has been here. We wrestled him at multiple weights and we won an awful lot of matches because of his dedication. He is a wrestler we are going to miss,” he said.
The final second place finisher for the Bucs was sophomore Trent Grant, who fell to Ethan Gray of Caravel Academy. While Grant gained an early advantage over his opponent, Gray slowly and methodically worked his way back into the match. By the third period Grant chased what eventually became a 9-5 defeat. While the loss was heartbreaking for Grant, Parsley stated he was proud of the job grant had accomplished. “126 pounds was a wide open weight class this year. For him to make it to the finals was quite an accomplishment,” he said.
With three finalists, perhaps even more satisfying for the Buccaneers were the impressive four, third place finishers who were able to wrestle back and earn a spot on the podium. For Milford those wrestlers began with sophomore Corey Messick (113) who had a difficult season due to illness. While not making excuses, Messick believes he could have and will do better. “It was very difficult to get in condition this season. While I may not have been at my best, that’s no excuse. My plan is to come back stronger next season and accomplish the goal of being a State Champion.”
Another wrestler won third place was senior Gaij Copes (170) who also had a truncated season. When asked about the effects of the missed time, Copes was quite candid. “There was no doubt I was not in the shape I needed to be to compete at my best. When it came down to the final period against these better wrestlers, I found I was getting really tired,” Copes said. “While third place is never the goal, I am actually proud of how hard I competed.”
The other third place finishers for Milford were sophomore Tim O’Hara (138) who looks to have a bright future, and senior Bevensky Augustin (182). Speaking with Parsley, he was clearly impressed with the third place wins for the Bucs. “You have to understand, when you are wrestling for third, you have already lost a match. Think about it, you know you can’t be a Champion, but when you can do is get back on the mat and wrestle. Our guys did it fantastically, they showed character in the face of adversity.”
While this may not have been the most decorated team Parsley has coached in terms of talent up and down the lineup, Parsley stated this team will always have a unique place in his heart. “I can’t begin to tell you how honored I was to coach this group of wrestlers. We had a lot of things not go our way with regards to injuries and guys missing time, but they never quit,” Parsley stated. “In terms of heart, this is one of, if not the toughest teams I’ve ever coached. We wanted more, but looking back at how things went I don’t know that there is anything more we could have done to achieve it.”