Southeast Whitfield High School senior wrestler Carlos Fraire overcame the challenge of physical pain to win the 220-pound title at this year’s Class 4A state traditional tournament, shaking off even the hint of any suggestion he not go on after suffering what was determined after the match to be a strained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Perhaps it was because Fraire knew that pain exists in forms beyond the physical, that the emotional sting he felt from finishing second at the same weight a year earlier at the Class 3A state tournament drove him throughout the offseason and into his final year on the mat for the Raiders.
On his way to the title this season — Fraire beat Griffin’s Telly Sloan 2-1 in the finals despite hurting his knee early in the second period — Fraire dealt with pressure but never let it keep him from pursuing his ultimate goal of a championship. While he no doubt would rather have won a title in 2012, too — he lost 3-2 in triple overtime to Allatoona’s Bryson Brindle — Fraire turned the setback into an opportunity to step forward.
The proof was in his title victory, the way he won it and the fact that he all but expected to be standing on the top of the medal stand at the tournament’s finish.
“I remembered the pain from last year and not winning it, and it felt pretty bad,” Fraire said. “So I didn’t want to go through it again. Winning state was just like a paycheck. All the work I put into it, I got something back. I didn’t lose anything.”
For his accomplishments this season, Fraire is The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Wrestler of the Year. He is joined on the all-area team by teammates Jesus Dominguez (120 pounds), Lester Paucay (152) and Austin Allen (170); Dalton’s Dylan Carlile (126), Sidney Wheeler (182) and Werner Braun (195); Murray County’s Domingo Bautista (113) and Clay Thornbury (182); North Murray’s Alex Gambino (106), C.J. Delgadillo (132) and Brandon Adame (285); and Northwest Whitfield’s Sean Coley (138), Alex Reynolds (145) and Austin Taylor (160).
Fraire’s senior season was filled with honors both personal and team-wide as he became his school’s first state wrestling champion since the late 1990s and helped the Raiders secure the program’s first trip to state duals in the history of that event. His 52-1 record in 2013-14 gave him a 159-29 record for his high school career, and in addition to his state title he won both the Area 7-4A and Class 4A West sectional championships.
For Southeast coach Michael Herndon, Fraire — who is on the all-area team for the third year in a row — will serve as a model for current and future Raiders when talking about how to deal with adversity, a name and a face to remind them that being knocked down doesn’t have to mean staying there.
“I think that’s the biggest thing, not having a kid that’s just naturally talented,” Herndon said. “You like to have kids that, their freshman year you have no idea what they’ll turn into, but they’re going to turn into a state champion. He’s a good example to show other kids that if you work hard, you can become a state champion.”
Fraire, who started wrestling at Eastbrook Middle School in eighth grade, admits his honors weren’t claimed alone. He was helped by drilling partners like Jose Ortiz in the past and fellow senior Jose Martir this season, by coaches like Herndon, who was someone to turn to for advice not only on the mat but off it.
Because plenty of people around school knew Fraire had come close to winning a state title, he wasn’t the only one who had big expectations for this year. Eventually, hearing, “How’s it going, state champ?” in the hall so many times took its toll. Fraire knew he was wrestling not just for himself but his team, his school and his community.
The pressure was both internal and external, and midway through the season he needed advice.
“One afternoon after practice, I just broke down in front of coach Herndon, and he said, ‘If you need some time off, take it,’” Fraire recalled.
He was back at practice the next day, but knowing that his coach understood made a difference, and Fraire stayed on the road to the title, working hard both in the practice room and on his own to ensure there were no regrets at the end. Herndon said Fraire once again battled nerves at the state tournament, with his anxiousness showing up in sub-par performances in the first two rounds. But he shook the doubts with an overtime victory in the semifinals and headed to the last match with even more determination.
“In the finals, he showed he was confident,” Herndon said. “I think he knew he would have to wrestle his toughest match, but I didn’t really see the nervousness that I had before.”
Fraire was in so much pain by the end of his loss that he hobbled off the mat — with help from Herndon — without really celebrating. He winced throughout a quick post-match interview with the crew broadcasting the tournament, then headed for the training room. As Fraire was checked out and caught his breath, Herndon finally saw a smile register on his star wrestler’s face.
His conquest was complete. He was a champion. And it felt good.
Fraire hopes to wrestle in college, but he’s already learned plenty from the sport.
“It teaches you to never give up,” he said, “on what you want.”
That’s a lesson he has not only learned, but taught.
Here’s a look at the rest of this year’s all-area lineup:
• 106 — Alex Gambino, North Murray: The sophomore’s biggest honor this year might have come via his fourth-place finish at the Class 3A state tournament, where he became the first Mountaineer to step on the medal stand in the program’s short history. He also took second at the Class 3A West sectional a week after finishing fourth in the Area 5-3A tournament and finished the season with a 33-12 record. This is his first all-area selection.
“When I met him last year, he walked into my classroom and sat down, and I asked him if he wrestled. He said ‘Maybe.’” Well, he turns out to be our first state placer,” Mountaineers coach Steve Colley said. “Since he won (a state medal), he has totally changed his work ethic. He’s lifting weights and he’s got a list of wrestling camps he wants to attend.”
• 113 — Domingo Bautista, Murray County: Much of the Indians’ talent was situated in the heavier half of their lineup this year, but Bautista, a junior, gave them a fighting chance at his weight class, too. He compiled a 25-6 record that included second-place finishes at both the Indians’ own Murray Invitational and the Area 7-2A tournament. He finished fifth in the Class 2A West sectional to earn alternate status for state. This is his first all-area selection after earning honorable mention each of the past two seasons, and Indians coach Chris Thornbury is hoping for a stellar finish to Bautista’s career.
“When he was in the lineup we counted on him to win, and most of the time he delivered,” Thornbury said. “We’re looking for big things out of him next year.”
• 120 — Jesus Dominguez, Southeast: The senior’s leadership showed up in plenty of ways this season, including winning a crucial match to help the Raiders secure the Conasauga Cup title for the first time since the event was resumed in the mid-2000s. He finished with a 44-10 record that included an Area 7-4A title and a runner-up finish at the Class 4A West sectional — he and Dalton’s Dylan Carlile split the meetings — and he was also fourth at the Allatoona Invitational. This is his first all-area appearance; he earned honorable mention a year ago.
“He’s a great kid, a very hard worker and a team leader, so we loved having him around and we’re definitely going to miss him. He had a great year,” said Herndon, who added that Dominguez does hope to keep wrestling in college somewhere.
• 126 — Dylan Carlile, Dalton: Although the junior finished the season at 120, he spent a good deal of the Catamounts’ schedule at 126. He also spent a good time on the mat — and most of that time winning. Carlile racked up an eye-catching 63-8 record with 49 pins, placing first at the Class 4A West sectional and the Cedar-town Bulldog Slam, second at the Area 7-4A tournament, Darlington Invitation-al and Murray Invitational, third at Dalton’s Carpet Classic and fourth at the Bradley (Tenn.) Invitational. This is his second straight all-area selection after earning honorable mention as a freshman.
“I thought he was going to be a state champion. He had some mental hurdles to overcome, and in a lot of ways he did ... he just had a bad tournament at state,” Dalton coach Michael Keefe said. “I was expecting him to be a state champion, and I didn’t have any doubt. It was just a freak thing.”
• 132 — C.J. Delgadillo, North Murray: While this year’s all-area lineup isn’t exactly senior-dominated, Delgadillo still stands out by being the only freshman selected to the team. He split time at 132 and 138 this season, but wherever he was in North Murray’s lineup, Colley found him dependable as he filled in for injured teammates on several occasions. Although Delgadillo didn’t place in the postseason, he showed promise with a 14-9 record and could be part of a good, young core of wrestlers Colley can build around the next few seasons.
“I threw him in there for the first time and he won a match and it was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know he could wrestle like that,’” Colley said. “There were a couple of times where he pulled through for wins when if he wouldn’t have, we would have lost.”
• 138 — Sean Coley, Northwest: The senior suffered a tough break — literally — when he fractured his arm late in the season and was unable to compete at the area tournament, a blow to both his own postseason hopes and those of the Bruins. But his final season was nonetheless a strong one as he went 16-10 and gave Northwest good experience and leadership in a year when the roster was stocked with Bruins who were either very young or first-time varsity contributors. This is his first all-area selection.
“He started out really good, and a lot of the matches he lost were one- or two-point matches, so he wrestled smart to keep himself in there,” Bruins coach Allen Tucker said. “He’d been in the program three years, and he was a quiet leader. When he went out there, though, he gave himself a chance and he was always in the match. And he improved all the way from his freshman year to his senior year.”
• 145 — Alex Reynolds, Northwest: The junior didn’t waste his first trip to the state tournament, earning a fifth-place medal to follow up a fourth-place finish at the Class 4A West sectional and a championship performance at the Area 7-4A tournament. He finished with a 46-6 record and should be among the area’s hopefuls for a state title next season. This is his first all-area selection after earning honorable mention each of the past two seasons.
“He started wrestling smarter,” Tucker said. “He realized he can’t go out and pin everybody, so he started wrestling a lot smarter this year, and that just comes from experience. He kept himself in all his matches and gave himself a chance to win this year, and he battled through a lot of injuries. He really matured this year and he’s excited about next year.”
• 152 — Lester Paucay, Southeast: Yet another valuable senior who will be missed by the Raiders in 2013-14, Paucay had a cradle that could end matches quickly when he secured the hold. He went 43-9, winning the Area 7-4A title, placing fourth at the Class 4A West sectional and finishing fifth in Class 4A to become one of only a handful of state medalists for the Raiders over the past decade. Noted by Herndon as a success in the classroom as well as on the mat, this is his second straight all-area appearance after earning honorable mention as a sophomore.
“He’s very strong, and he’s one that he’ll go out there and more than likely, if he wins the match he’s going to pin,” Herndon said. “He had a great year, and he’s just a good kid and a good wrestler. On top he was pretty dominant, and for us it didn’t matter — if they chose bottom, Lester was probably going to put them on their back and pin them, and if he was on bottom he would reverse them and pin them.”
• 160 — Austin Taylor, Northwest: While it wasn’t a banner year for the area when it came to postseason success, there were some good stories and lots of potential for the future. Taylor presented both, with the sophomore coming a long way from start to finish as he compiled an 18-9 record and finished fourth at the Area 7-4A tournament to set up his trip to the Class 4A West sectional, where he was ninth — one place shy of a trip to state. This is his first appearance in the all-area lineup.
“He started out as a JV wrestler ... then we had an injury at that weight class to Garrett Gray,” Tucker said. “The last two weeks of the season he had a shoulder problem and we couldn’t get it fixed. Austin didn’t know he was wrestling at area until the day before the tournament ... He’s always been a hard worker, a steady, kind of a grinder-type of wrestler. When he qualified for sectionals, that perked him up. He wrestled good at sectionals, so he’s looking forward to next year.”
• 170 — Austin Allen, Southeast: One comfort to Herndon in the loss of three talented seniors like Dominguez, Paucay and Fraire is the return of Allen, who will no doubt bring both talent and leadership to his own senior campaign. He went 45-9 this season, with his tournament honors including second-place finishes at both the Allatoona Invitational and the Area 7-4A traditional, as well as a fourth-place finish at the Class 4A West sectional to earn his second straight trip to the state tournament. This is his first all-area appearance after earning honorable mention last year as a sophomore.
“He’s a guy we’ll have back and we definitely look forward to that,” Herndon said. “He’s improved so much, even from last year — about halfway through last year, he realized he could be really good.”
• 182 — Clay Thornbury, Murray County: The most decorated Murray County wrestler this season, Thornbury went 40-7 and finished the year by placing fifth at the Class 2A state tournament. He was also third at the Class 2A West sectional, second at both the Area 7-4A tournament and the Murray Invitational and first at Pepperell’s Dragon Invitational. Coach Thornbury — Clay’s father — said he noticed his son developing an inner peace about his wrestling late in the season and becoming more confident as a result. This is his first all-area selection after earning honorable mention each of the past two seasons.
“I thought he wrestled his best at the end of the year,” coach Thornbury said. “Starting off with a young team this season, we needed somebody to step up and he certainly did that. He just improved every match. He’s just very coachable and learns from every match, win or lose. That was his biggest change this year. ... And obviously he’s a hard worker — nobody works harder than him.”
• 182 — Sidney Wheeler, Dalton: Wheeler capped his 2011-12 season by winning the Class 3A 182-pound title and being named The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Wrestler of the Year, so the bar was high going into his junior season. While he came up short of another state crown or even a medal with a disappointing showing at the 4A tournament, he was still one of the area’s best throughout the year, compiling a 45-4 record that included first-place finishes at the Area 7-4A tournament, Carpet Classic, Bradley (Tenn.) Invitational, Cedartown Bulldog Slam and Murray Invitational, plus a third-place finish at the Class 4A West sectional. This is his second straight all-area selection after earning honorable mention as a freshman.
“The crazy thing is going into sectionals, he had only lost one match and he had avenged that loss,” Keefe said. “... But he had a great year and came a long way technically. He developed a great shot, which was something he didn’t have before.”
• 195 — Werner Braun, Dalton: One of the upsides for Keefe, who was in his first year as the Cats’ head coach, is the presence of returning talent for 2013-14, including all of Dalton’s all-area selections this season. Braun is definitely part of the group Keefe can use to help reach the program’s goals after proving capable in his first two high school seasons. This year, he went 33-14 and took third place at the Carpet Classic, Cedartown Bulldog Slam and Murray Invitational — and that was despite wrestling up a weight class so Dalton could spread the talent around its lineup. He finished fifth in Area 7-4A, a spot shy of advancing to the sectional round on the way to his first all-area selection.
“Werner was really impressive this year,” Keefe said. “He’s one of those guys who, every time he’s on the mat, he gives you everything he’s got.”
• 285 — Brandon Adame, North Murray: Nicknamed “Okra” after besting the Mountaineers’ head coach in a fried okra eating competition at Church’s Chicken during a road trip, the sophomore was one of several Mountaineers who had to deal with injuries this season. But he still finished with an 18-6 record and claimed fourth place in Area 5-3A — he was fifth at the Class 3A West sectional meet, one place shy of securing an invitation to state — to give North Murray a solid option at the end of the lineup. This is his first all-area selection, and Colley said his attitude and manners make him a Mountaineer to be proud of off the mat, too.
“Him and (Blane Anderson) kind of went back and forth starting at heavyweight, but he never got discouraged,” Colley said. “He had an injury, but he came back from that and placed at area and then beat the No. 1 seed at the sectional tournament, so he’s special.”
• Honorable mention: Coahulla Creek — Francisco Sanchez (Jr., 113); Murray County — Kevin Chavez (So., 160), Willy Amador (Sr., 195), Allen Roberts (Sr., 285); North Murray — Tyler McKee (Jr., 152), Ethan Center (Jr., 170), Jeremiah Watkins (Sr., 220); Northwest — Blake Hayes (So., 106), A.J. Orozco (Sr., 195), Victor Lopez (Sr., 285); Southeast — Omar Ruiz (So., 113), Chris Rosas (Fr., 106), Aaron Thomas (Sr., 126), Jose Martir (Sr., 285).