LIBERTY—Head Coach Dale Burrell and the Liberty High wrestling team are on a magical ride that they hope continues this weekend.
The team has had a groundbreaking season in 2012-2013, winning the region, taking first place in the Upper State Championship and cruising to Columbia to try to win ultimate bragging rights this weekend.
Burrell said all the credit goes to the team’s effort and hard work.
“For years, we would finish second or third in the region,” Burrell said. “We can beat all kinds of Region AAA and Region AAAA champions, but we never could beat our own. We really wanted it this year and it worked out.”
Burrell said he learned early on his team could be special.
“We had our county tournament early on and we’ve won that a lot,” Burrell said. “This year, Pickens beat us and squeaked it out and our guys were pretty disappointed by that. We knew we had a pretty good team, we just weren’t sure how good we were yet.”
Burrell said the loss to Pickens inspired his team throughout the season.
“We started winning and having success in some big tournaments,” Burrell said. “We managed to make it through our whole region and win it. Our region is very tough.”
Despite being undersized at times, Burrell said his guys have managed to continue to pull out wins.
“We’ve got guys that are way undersized in their weight class,” Burrell said. “They are having to wrestle up, but we’ve managed to just keep moving on.”
“It has been different guy every week,” he continued. “We don’t really have any weak spots. We have three guys in our lineup that don’t have a winning percentage of over 50 percent. Eleven of our starters have a 60, 70, 80 and 90 percent winning percentage. It really has been a team effort.”
Liberty Athletic Directory Sherry Haithcock said the whole experience has been very exciting for the school.
“They have just worked so hard and have had such a great season this year. It has been really exciting,” Haithcock said. “Different kids have been able to step up in different matches throughout the year. There would be times where somebody had to win a match and they would do it. It has been really rewarding to watch the excitement build among the team throughout the season.”
Liberty won all 4 rounds of the Upper State Championships, defeating Ware Shoals, Pendleton, Indian Land and Crescent.
The wrestling team did receive a scare recently, as beloved assistant coach Michael Conner underwent bypass surgery. Thankfully, Conner is now in recovery and Burrell said the team is relieved that he is doing well.
“Michael Conner has been a great coach for us, and he actually had to have surgery this week,” Burrell said. “It came out of nowhere. On Wednesday we found out that he had to have triple bypass surgery. Our guys have had that on their mind all week. It hurt to lose a little bit of focus, but he is home now and recovering.”
Haithcock said the impact this team has made on the school has really been incredible.
“It was the only sport that had not won a region championship in a sport that we offer,” Haithcock said. “It has really been very positive for our school to have the wrestling team step up. They were really excited to learn that we had to order a banner for them.”
Liberty will hit the mats again this Saturday at 11 a.m. against Lower State champions Bamberg-Ehrhadt High at Dreher High School in Columbia as they compete for the South Carolina AA State Championship.