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SALEM –– The last thing Galax wrestling coach Kevin Spurlin told his 220-pounder before sending him out for the biggest match in the kid’s life was, win, lose or draw, you’re my man.
The kid must have stopped listening after the “win” part. Teenage boys will do that sometimes when it’s their dads talking.
“Lose” and “draw” became the concerns of others as Caleb Spurlin became the Maroon Tide’s fifth individual state champion Saturday, edging Eastside’s Jeremy Mullins 3-2 in the Group 1A finals at the Salem Civic Center. A sophomore, Spurlin is the first state champion for Galax during his father’s two-year tenure as head coach at the school and joins Edu Rojas (2009), Jose Rojas (2010), Darian Sizemore (2010) and Junior Espinosa (2011) among the Maroon Tide elites, with two years to add to his legacy.
After relatively easy quarterfinal and semifinal bouts on Friday, the younger Spurlin had a grueling wait of close to 30 hours before his big moment Saturday night.
For anyone who has not attended the championship round of a VHSL state wrestling tournament, the lead-up is part Friday Night Lights, part WWE and part Vegas, all rolled into one. The introductions last longer than a lot of quad matches, with former title winners recognized in a blacked-out, spotlit parade of champions, a grand entrance of the finalists and a detailed introduction of each wrestler – 104 of them in all.
Caleb Spurlin had experienced the spectacle last year as a freshman, but only as an onlooker.
“I kinda forgot what it was like,” he said.
All four classifications wrestled separately but simultaneously on four mats on the civic center floor, each match followed by the awards presentations for the previous weight classes’ matches.
In other words, it took a while to get to the 220-pounders, the second-to-last weight class on the docket.
“It was absolutely awful,” Caleb said. “I was wanting to get out there so bad. Once the finals did start it was like another hour and a half, two hours, just sitting there.”
The jitters didn’t stop with the combatants.
“Just the anticipation,” said Kevin. “I knew in my heart that he could win the match but all the pomp and circumstance before the finals, the parade of champions, the walk-out, this and that, just the build-up of everything and I looked at one of the other coaches and said, boys, I gotta just go to the bathroom or something.”
After a scoreless first period, Mullins opted to start the second in the down position and quickly got an escape for a 1-0 lead, the only point for either wrestler in the first two period. Spurlin chose down in the third and tied the match with an escape. The two grapplers had spent most of the first two periods not taking one another down, but Spurlin shot a quick, low-single and finished the move for a takedown and a 3-1 lead. Mullins worked free with about 20 seconds left to close to within a point but was too gassed to manage an attack before the final horn.
Spurlin had met Mullins in the 1A West region semifinals a week earlier and had come away with a 4-2 win.
“I knew I had what it took, I was just worried about not choking,” he said. “I couldn’t go in there with a big head or anything. Had to go in there and do what I had to do.”
And nothing more.
“It only takes one point to win, so don’t do anything stupid,” was Kevin Spurlin’s advice. “He’s had the tendency, especially in matches that he’s lost, to try a big move and it would slip or something. I just said, don’t do anything you don’t have to do. If you win 1-0, a win is a win. I told him I loved him and I was proud of him, and go out and give it all you’ve got. Just left it at that, sent him to the mat and he handled his business.”