Hampshire senior DJ Willard wins state wrestling championship at 160 pounds


Published: 2/18/2018 1:42:29 PM

DJ Willard’s dream of becoming a state champion twice nearly became a nightmare.

The Hampshire Regional senior was on his back during his 160-pound semifinals and finals matches, Saturday at the state Division 3 tournament in Wakefield.

Willard wasn’t denied though. He came through with victories each time to claim his first state championship.

“I gave it everything I had,” Willard said. “I knew it was my last chance to be a state champion.”

Willard joined Brandon Weyant and Brendan Weir (three times) as Hampshire Regional state champions.

“It’s awesome,” Willard said. “I’ve been working toward this for six years.”

The title almost never happened.

He was put down early in the first period of his semifinals match against Grant Guempel, of Cohasset, the South sectional champion.

Willard was on his back facing a nearfall count when he worked his way out of the position.

“I knew I could fight off my back and come back and get the win,” Willard said. “After I got out and going into that second period I fought with everything I had to keep him on his back.”

Willard scored a pin in 2 minutes, 55 seconds to advance to the finals, where he faced Brandon Reyes, of Dedham, the Central sectional champion.

Much like the semifinals match, Willard was down early. Reyes scored five points and was close to a pin, but Willard recovered.

“I was close to being pinned and was worried about being pinned,” Willard said. “I was on my back for a long time and I didn’t want to give up.”

Willard trailed 5-0 when he scored a two-point reversal and a two-point nearfall before the end of the first period.

The back-and-forth match continued into the second when the wrestlers traded reversals. Reyes picked up a point on an escape before Willard closed with a takedown to force an 8-8 tie entering the third.

In the final period, Willard added another reversal and a nearfall early to take a 12-8 lead en route to a 12-9 victory.

“I’ve been watching him all day,” Willard said. “I figured out some of the stuff but it was tough to see him against opponents I had never seen. It wasn’t a good reference.”

Willard was mentally and physically ready for the tournament. He said the team brought in additional coaches and former wrestlers to help with preparation.

One of the former wrestlers was mixed martial artist Nate Ghareeb.

“The physical workout and skills that he was able to give to our team is really good,” Willard said. “But the mental aspect is huge. He’s really good at talking to us and making us believe we can accomplish these things.”

Willard will be seeded among the top three at All-States, which starts Friday at St. John’s Prep in Danvers.

“I know there will be some much tougher competition,” Willard said. “I do not know what to expect. My goal is to place among the top two people.”

The top six individuals from the divisional meet advance to all-states.

Spencer Telega, of Franklin Tech, placed fourth at 152.

The South Deerfield resident fell 5-4 to Melrose’s Mike Calvert in the semifinals. He came back and beat Michael Baldwin, of Hampshire Regional, 4-2 in the consolation semis before losing 3-2 to Mike Nolan, of Cohassett, in the third-place match.

Baldwin beat Hanover’s Pat Brown, 5-3, and Dedham’s Colin Curran, 4-2, to set up the match with Telega.

After the loss, Baldwin pinned Garrett Vartanian of Quabbin in 5:13 to place fifth.

Baldwin’s teammate Kobe Clifford found the podium wrestling four times Saturday at 195.

Clifford lost 14-8 to Spencer Fetrow, of Holliston, in the quarters, then pinned Mark Vecchio, of Essex Tech, in 4:27 in his first consolation match.

Clifford was pinned in 1:08 by Noah Rodri, of South Shore, and in 3:13 by Aiden Coleman, Wakefield, to place eighth.

Gateway Regional’s Brandon Daniels placed eighth at 113.

Daniels eliminated Frontier Regional’s Tanner Finch with a pin in 45 seconds in the consolation round.

Daniels then lost 10-6 to Ian Forgitano of Georgetown-Ipswich and 8-7 to Taconic’s Mike LaFreniere to place eighth.

Smith Vocational’s Tyreek Saunders dropped both of his matches at 285. He was pinned by Norton’s Arthur O’Neill in 51 seconds in the quarterfinals. He then lost in 2:50 to Carlos Gonsalves of Josiah Quincy.

Frontier’s Bailey Murry was eliminated at 126 via a pin in 55 seconds by Ben Dubois of Dighton-Rehoboth.

Murry’s teammate Connor Pettis lost 8-0 to Jalen Rogers of Sabis at 138.

Miguel Olvera-Aguilera joined Frontier Regional’s 100-win club with his opening victory at 160 on Friday. His tournament ended Saturday with a loss in 4:59 to Kevin Tran of Wakefield.

Nate Austin, of Frontier, fell in 1:25 to Rodri at 195.

Smith Vocational had a pair of wrestlers compete once.

Jacob Erali lost 10-9 to Ryan Smith of Wakefield at 152. Justin Flores lost 7-5 to Jacob Studley of Middleborough at 170.

Division 1

Northampton’s Noah Brink went 1-2 at 132 pounds in the state tournament at Newton South.

After going 1-1 on Friday, Brink fell 3-1 to Adam Bernhardt, of Newton South, Saturday.


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