Killeen ISD and the Central Texas area will be represented by five wrestlers from four different schools in the University Interscholastic League Wrestling State Tournament in Cypress this weekend.
Region 6-5A champion, Lampasas sophomore Cameron Everts will be representing in the 160-pound class and with a 27-4 season record.
Region 6-6A will be represented in three weight classes. The 215-pound weight class will have third-place finisher in Ellison freshman Ayanna Bess, who goes into the tournament with a season record of 24-9.
Killeen 165-pound champion Zharia Hopkins holds a 26-3 season record.
Shoemaker is the only school to send two wrestlers to state this year with regional champion Dhaikiyah Geter wrestling in the 138-pound weight class with a record of 44-3 and senior Chris Williams competing in the 170-pound weight class with a record of 37-8.
Grey Wolves Wrestling
On any given afternoon, if you walk into Shoemaker High School through the athletics department looking for the wrestling team, you won’t find them in the gym or fieldhouse.
The Grey Wolves wrestling team doesn’t have a practice room of its own with fancy mats laid out or a booster club. Instead, they have dedicated teens on the team who roll away cafeteria tables and roll out mats in the corner for a makeshift practice space.
“They clear out this spot in the cafeteria, and they workout there, and they work their butts off every day,” Shoemaker wrestling coach Lehi Benton said of his team. “Everything they have and everything they’ve done, especially Dhaikiyah and Chris, they’ve earned.”
Part of the success of the Shoemaker wrestling program is due to its coach.
“I’ve been grappling and wrestling my whole life, and I know how to run a wrestling practice,” Benton said, “and I’m not a football coach. I’m just a wrestling coach.”
With his background in the sport, Benton has a simple philosophy he runs the program by — conditioning.
He knows his kids have to put in the work because to reach state, the kids must have endurance.
“It comes down to your gas tank and your heart,” Benton said. “That last 30 seconds, you have to get an escape, you have to get up, and you have to do it.
“I’m lucky I’ve got great kids and that’s, I think, the main thing,” he said of his program sending multiple wrestlers to state each year.
Taking a chance
In 2016, Williams was a sophomore running on the track before a teammate’s brother asked him to tryout for wrestling.
“I was going to be a basketball player, but I thought, let me check out what wrestling is like,” he said. “Then I came out for wrestling and was like, ‘Hey, this is fun. I like this sport.’
And he’s stuck with it ever since.
“He started off a completely different wrestler than he is now,” Benton said of Williams’ growth in the sport over the years.
“I used to muscle kids,” Williams said, laughing at the memory of how he used to view the sport, “so now I really know the game of wrestling.
“I don’t use as much muscle as I used to. I use more technique, which is way more important, but last year, my teammates really helped me become a better wrestler.”
Not many people view the sport as a game, but for Williams, he compares it to the mental game of chess.
“You have to think three or four moves ahead,” he said of his strategy, “but you also have to counter attack your opponent.”
Growing up, Williams and his cousins used to try and see who could slam each other first, which is the same mindset he had when he first started wrestling.
“That’s kind of the idea I had in my head,” he said. “The official word is a takedown, see who can get the takedown first and then I learned how to escape and how not to get taken down.
“I love the game of wrestling,” Williams added with a big grin across his face, “it’s fun. I never thought I’d be doing it, but it’s one sport that I love doing.”
As Williams prepares for the last match of his high school career, there is uncertainty of where wrestling will be in his future.
“I wouldn’t mind if I got a scholarship, that would be nice,” he said. “I would love a college scholarship but if it’s just a part of my high school career then I can say I went to state two years in a row.
“And where I come from, people don’t wrestle.”
As a returning member of the team, Benton has seen Williams step up not only as the captain of the team but as a leader.
One lesson his teammates can take from him this season is his outlook on the sport.
“I did lose a couple times,” Williams said, “but I didn’t get down on myself because I knew that there was more wrestling to come.
“You can’t give up on yourself after one match. You have to keep wrestling and remember, lose or win, don’t stop moving.”
Geter also found wrestling in 2016 as a sophomore.
“I had a friend who was wrestling and I started about a year later,” she said.
Before wrestling, Geter wasn’t doing anything and wasn’t keeping up on her grades.
“I guess I was going through that weird teenager change where you don’t know what you want to do or who you really are,” she said, “so I started wrestling.”
After she tried out and found the sport, she also found herself.
“I started getting my grades right and acting better,” she said.
Now, in her third year of competing, Geter finds the biggest change in her game is her maturity.
“The wins don’t really matter,” she said, “it’s more about being a good wrestler and showing I’m a good wrestler and being happy with my performance.
“I don’t want to be a state champ, win by one point and look back on the video and be like, ‘I could have done so much better, I could have opened up more.’ I just want to wrestle the best I can.”
Geter can’t imagine wrestling not being part of her life after growing with the sport throughout her high school career.
“Wrestling state is awesome, and I’m happy to go,” she said, “but I want to be an Olympic wrestler. I want to go to the Olympics.”
With the goal in mind, Geter has one quote to keep her focused: Have your goals high so that if you fail you still succeed.
“My goal is to go to the Olympics, and no matter what I do at state, it will be alright,” she said, “because I’ll go to college and keep improving.”
Geter has been in talks with some colleges, which had her worried at times when she had some losses, but then, she took a new approach, looking at it like, “Whatever, I’ll go anyway, and I’ll be a walk-on and prove myself, and then go to the Olympics and do all that I’ve set out to accomplish.”
Shoemaker had six wrestlers qualify for state last year, including both Williams and Geter.
“Now, sadly, only two of us are going this year,” Williams said, “but I’m really looking forward to another experience to be there and in the arena with all the good wrestlers.
“I’ve seen some wrestle, and I’m just like, ‘Wow.’”
Geter placed 10th last year after losing on the first day.
“I was just happy to be there,” she said.
“I already lost,” she said of how her view of the competition has changed this year. “I’ve been through it, I’ve been through the worst, so now I’m going to go out there and have fun, because I like to wrestle, so I might as well enjoy it.”
As a coach, Benton hopes watching Williams’ matches won’t give him a anxiety attack.
“Chris’ wrestling style is kind of like a boa constrictor,” he said. “He keeps the score low, and he chokes the guy out.
“He just squeezes and pressures and by the end of the match, they give up, but those matches kill me,” Benton added with a laugh, remembering how Williams’ regionals match came down to him getting a reversal in the last three seconds for the win.
“Chris, you have to stop doing this, man, because you’re killing me,” Benton told Williams after his victory.
But getting ahead by a few points and slowing his opponent down is Williams’ specialty on the mat, along with a few signature moves he has for different parts of the match.
“She’ll chain moves together,” Benton explained. “If she goes for a takedown, she’s thinking three moves ahead of that.
“She’s very strategic and a great chain wrestler, and I’d like to see her keep doing that.”
Wrestling with the boys isn’t something every program has, but Geter attributes it to part of her success since they typically have a different style.
But it’s her signature move that pumps her up during matches.
“I do this really nice drag sweep,” Geter explained. “You sweep your arm, and you trip them with your leg, and when I do it, I can hear people say, ‘Oh!,’ in the audience.
“Girls don’t do it a lot, and so when I do it, they don’t expect it. It’s kind of risky if it doesn’t work, but it’s been working great.”
Her move leaves her opponents confused, not knowing what to do to defend against it, which is why she uses it.
“I really like that one,” Geter said, laughing as she remembers how opponents have reacted to that move in the past.
The team left for the tournament on Thursday, but before Williams and Geter hit the mat one final time for Shoemaker, Benton’s advice is as simple as his program’s philosophy: Wrestle like you know how to wrestle.
“Don’t worry about records, don’t worry about looking at the clock, and don’t worry about the score,” Benton said. “Just go wrestle.
“As long as you’re just wrestling, you’re still trying to win. So wrestle to win.”