Going from fourth seed to champion, Hillsboro High School wrestler Justin King’s improbable climb to the top ended Saturday in Beloit with a 6-2 victory over Braden Larson of Pike Valley in the 145-pound final.
King won his final match with a takedown in each round.
“He doesn’t do anything flashy,” coach Scott O’Hare said. “He doesn’t make mistakes and gets in good position. That’s winning matches.”
Even though an undefeated regional tournament was King’s first tournament championship, the Hillsboro grappler did not fear the big stage of a championship final.
“I was pretty confidant I was going to win,” he said.
King’s wrestling over the weekend boosted that confidence as he conquered each round. In the third round on Friday, King defeated Matt Schneider of Phillipsburg, who was the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
“Justin had split with the third-place guy, and second-place guy had beaten the third-place guy,” O’Hare said. “They were so evenly matched.”
On top of never winning a tournament, King started wrestling his freshman year of high school, unlike teammates Dylan Delk, Darren Mueller, and Aaron Bina who had wrestled on Hillsboro teams since elementary school. O’Hare said King battled that lack of experience his first two seasons.
“He took his lumps,” O’Hare said.
Having to prove his mettle developed a perseverance that has led to successful seasons for King the past two years.
“He’s such a mild-mannered kid when he’s not wrestling, but when he puts that singlet on, he puts on an attitude,” O’Hare said.
Joining King with a win in a championship round, senior Bina defeated Kyler Atwood of Smith Center, 9-4, in the consolation final of the 160-pound class to take third. The score of the match was tied at 4 at the end of the second round, but Bina dominated the third round with a near pin and a takedown.
It was Bina’s second win over Atwood in the tournament. The Hillsboro grappler bested Atwood in overtime in his second match on Friday before losing to John Boyington of Phillipsburg.
Bina is returning to the state tournament for a second consecutive year. As the only Hillsboro wrestler with state experience, Bina will be asked to lead first-time state participants King, Delk, and Mueller.
Delk lost in the consolation final of the 171-pound class, 8-0, to Eric Hellerud of Hoisington. Delk started Saturday in a dominant fashion, winning his first two matches by pin. He pinned his first opponent in 17 seconds.
Senior Darren Mueller was pinned in the consolation final of the 125-pound class by Bowe Behymer of Beloit to finish fourth.
Going into the tournament, O’Hare was unsure of how the Trojans would perform after an up-and-down regular season. He figured the best-case scenario would be to send six Hillsboro wrestlers to Hays. He also thought they could easily end the season with losses in Beloit.
“Our guys really competed tough,” O’Hare said. “I’m pleased with the way we turned it up.”