BY NICHOLAS SULLIVAN
Coming on the heels of a duals state championship last month, the Woodland wrestling team knew it would be a challenge to finish the Class 5A sweep in the state traditional tournament.
The Wildcats entered this week’s season-ending tournament with nine wrestlers, while the team’s top competitor, Buford, brought qualifiers in all 14 weight classes. All Woodland did was have every single grappler finish in the top four and set a school record with nine state-placers to earn the program’s second traditional team title.
Coming in at a disadvantage following a quality Region 7-AAAAA meet, an unbalanced sectional draw and even an injury forcing a state qualifier to miss out on the tournament, the Wildcats solidified their position as 5A’s best wrestling team in 2018-19.
“We had to remain focused on what we did have,” Woodland head coach Adrian Tramutola said. “We had nine guys come in here, and we thought all nine could be state champs. … We had every single kid going for first or third, and when you have that, you’re going to score a ton of points.
“You throw on top of that some of the bonus points we got, and it made up for some of the guys we left behind. We might have scored enough bonus points to make it look like we had two or three more placers.”
At the end of the four-day tournament at Macon Centreplex, Woodland had 208.5 points, while Buford, which also was runner-up in the duals tournament, had 186.5. Only one team across the seven classifications scored more points than Woodland, as Camden County had 223.5 to run away with the Class 7A title.
Fittingly, it was a major-decision victory by senior Kyle Gollhofer that officially secured the team title for Woodland. Gollhofer finished as the first four-time individual state champion in program history, capping his year with a perfect record.
“It doesn’t happen without these guys,” Gollhofer said. “I’m super happy for myself, but without these guys, without [coach] T and without my incredible teammates from throughout the years, it doesn’t happen. I’m incredibly fortunate to have them around me, pushing me, making me as good as I can be.
“My match might have clinched it, but they did a lot along the way. It’s not without them. I had a lot of help, a lot of help.”
Tramutola made sure to credit the entire team for winning the championship, but even he admitted it was special for Gollhofer to seal it.
“It was the nine guys all the way through, but it was great to end it on him,” Tramutola said of Gollhofer. “For him to go out there and clinch it as a four-time state champ, it couldn’t have gone any better than that.
“Proud of him and proud of our team. What we did this weekend, as far as scoring bonus points, was incredible. I mean, we pinned almost every single match we won.”
Ironically, none of Woodland’s three state championship wins ended in a pin. Along with Gollhofer’s victory at 120 pounds, sophomores Caden McCrary and Jaxon Smith won in sudden death and by major decision, respectively. Both also finished off undefeated seasons.
McCrary remains unbeaten in high school after earning a state title as a freshman. Saturday’s match in the 132-pound title bout might have been his most difficult in his two years, finishing regulation with a 1-1 score before landing a 3-1 win.
“It feels amazing just to be able to say I’ve done it,” McCrary said. “I haven’t lost in my high-school career, and I plan on not losing.”
Meanwhile, Smith cruised to victory in the 145-pound division. After missing a lot of time due to injury, he was thrilled to win his first state title.
“The past year or two years, I’ve just been thinking about it,” Smith said. “Not being able to train and not being able to compete, it really made me want it more.”
Two Woodland wrestlers came up short in the finals, but finished off remarkable seasons.
At 113, Colton Bishop capped his rise from the JV ranks, due to an injury to senior Gavin Nix, to a state finalist, losing to Buford senior and Stanford signee Logan Ashton. Caleb Henson suffered his only loss of the season in an upset in the 126-pound championship.
“As happy as I am for [the champions], my heart bleeds for him,” Tramutola said of Henson. “We chased that kid; and chased that kid; and chased that kid; and chased that kid. Until we were forced to make a couple of bad decisions. …
“One match doesn’t define him. He’s had an incredible year. He’s one of the top leading scorers on the team. He’s a hammer. Sometimes you don’t always win all the ones you’re supposed to win, but I think it will spark him and fuel him this summer.”
Along with the five finalists, Woodland had four wrestlers compete for third earlier Saturday. Senior Junior Rosati dropped the 106-pound bout, but Cole Cochran (138 pounds), Bryce Shedd (182) and Demarcus Williams (195) all finished out the season with a win.
The group did well to advance through the consolation bracket, picking up crucial points in the team standings to land Woodland its fifth overall state title, with three coming in duals competition.
“Happy for all of them, proud of all of them,” Tramutola said. “It was a nine-guy team effort this weekend. It was important for us to come back here and validate the duals state title. I don’t think we would have felt the same if we had come back here and took second here.”
Gollhofer has officially wrestled his final match as a Wildcat. The Northern Iowa signee is certainly on the Mount Rushmore of Woodland wrestling, and he has a strong case to be considered the best to ever compete for the storied program.
“Personally, I think he’s the best to come out of Woodland, so far,” Smith said. “He’s proved it. He’s the first four-timer; he places at all kinds of national tournaments; he’s had rankings in the entire country.”
Said McCrary, “I’ve been training with Kyle my whole life. We’re great buddies, and seeing what he’s done only pushes me to go harder. I can’t wait to see what he does in college and what the future holds for him.”
When Woodland picked up the duals championship in January, an incredibly emotional Gollhofer couldn’t stop shaking as he discussed the achievement. He said he didn’t think it could get better than that.
But as he stood in the bowels of Macon Coliseum, Gollhofer couldn’t stop smiling this time around. He’d won everything there was to win his senior year — individually and as a team.
“I’m not sure if I could be happier,” Gollhofer said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. That was my last high-school match, but I’m trying not to think about it. I’m going to enjoy the rest of tonight with these guys. Hopefully, it won’t set in for a couple more days.”
Woodland might not be able to replace the production of Gollhofer next season, but he believes the program is set up for plenty of future success.
“They’re got something special going on,” Gollhofer said. “… Kind of upset I only get one year with it, but I’ll be following these guys for sure. They’re a special group of kids, and I love them.”