Dalton savors state championship in a season that also wasn’t

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 21, 2019

By Marc Pruitt
For the Clemmons Courier

Mike Dalton capped his improbable wrestling season last Saturday night by winning the NCHSAA 4-A state championship at 113 pounds at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Dalton finished the season with a perfect 8-0 record after his win against Raleigh Leesville Road’s Richie Rizzuto in the championship match, but Dalton will be the first to let you know his season was far from perfect.

The payoff was the ultimate reward for the season that almost wasn’t.

Dalton, a junior, was academically ineligible to wrestle during the first semester and wasn’t put on the roster at West until just before the Midwest 4-A Regional competition that began Feb. 8. The fact that he was able to compete at all this season came down to a lot of luck with forces he could not control combined with his own self-discipline on the wrestling mat and a renewed sense of purpose in the classroom.

“It’s very true what they tell you about missing something when it’s taken away from you,” Dalton said. “And I have no one to blame for it but myself. I felt like I was letting my team down this season because I wasn’t there. I know I let myself down.”
It was a long few months between when Dalton discovered he couldn’t wrestle — about two weeks before the start of wrestling practice in November — to the time he learned he was eligible again — right after the first semester finally ended on Jan. 28.

The first semester was pushed back one full week because of the winter storm that enveloped Clemmons in mid-December, forcing the cancellation of school the week of Dec. 10-14.

During exam week, a two-hour delay on Jan. 23 pushed the semester back one more day until exams were completed.
“There were a lot of anxious moments about things that I knew I could not control,” Dalton said.

What he could control was staying after school every chance he could to take advantage of tutoring. He went home and studied. He also had the benefit of having a wrestling mat at home — he has been wrestling since he was 5, and his father, Mike, used to help coach at West. Dalton also wrestles for a club team and was able to stay sharp on the mat while he got his academics sharper.

Once he received word that his grades were in order and he would be able to wrestle, he participated in one dual team match against Mooresville — a win — in his first official match of the season, though it didn’t count towards his record. Then, Dalton had some more anxious moments as he awaited word about whether there was room for him at the regional tournament.
Since he hadn’t wrestled all season, there was also no guarantee that there would be space available for Dalton to compete in the regional. And to qualify for the state meet, he had to place in the top four at the regional.

“I found out that it didn’t fill up with enough wrestlers at my weight and I had a spot,” Dalton said. “I was able to get in because of my status as a state-meet qualifier last year. I went into the regional with a 15 seed (out of 16 wrestlers) and had to wrestle against the two seed in the first round.”

Dalton breezed through the regional. He won his first match 15-0, won his second match with a pin, and his semifinal by a 16-2 decision. In the final, he won by forfeit because his opponent got injured during his semifinal match and couldn’t compete.
“He ended up finishing in fourth place at the state tournament,” Dalton said.

As a regional champion, Dalton was one of four No. 1 seeds for the state tournament, which he entered with a 4-0 record.
It was also a chance for redemption for Dalton, who thought he had a chance to win his weight class (106) last year.
“I lost my first match last year and then got pinned in the consolation bracket by someone I had beaten before,” Dalton said. “It really set me back in everything after that. I didn’t feel like doing anything after that. I didn’t want to do anything. I just was never right after that because I had it in my mind that I should have won. That had a lot to do with my grades sliding. I missed a lot of school and just got so far behind with everything that I couldn’t catch up.”

His first match at the state meet this year had a different result.

Dalton won by a 15-2 major decision against Fuad Busisou of Raleigh Athens Drive and followed that up with a 16-0 technical fall against Justin Kelly of Lumberton in the quarterfinals.

He won his semifinal match with a 4-2 decision against Will Saby of Raleigh Millbrook to put him in the state championship match.

“I scored first in the championship with a takedown and led 2-0,” Dalton said. “He got a reversal towards the end of the first period to tie it 2-2. And then early in the second period, I got a point because he locked hands with me. And I just held on from there to win it. He couldn’t score any more points after that in the second or third period.”

Dalton said his celebration was subdued. He raised his arms and went to hug Coach Jason Hooker. He then pointed to his family in the stands.

“I wasn’t going to get too excited because Richie (Rizzuto, his opponent) deserved to be there too,” Dalton said. “And he and I are friends and we’ve wrestled against each other a lot.”

It was after the matches ended that Dalton did some celebrating with his family. At dinner, he ordered several appetizers and ate things he normally wouldn’t because of his efforts to maintain weight during the season.

“Nothing too crazy, I just wanted to enjoy myself some,” Dalton said.
Dalton said he learned a lot about himself during the season and will take those lessons into his senior year, when he plans to move up in weight and wrestle at 126 pounds.

“It’s funny that the things you can learn in wrestling that should apply to what you also do for your school work I just kind of ignored,” Dalton said. “I know that I can’t slack off at school and expect that wrestling will always just be there for me. I was really lucky I even got to compete this year and I can’t take that for granted. Everything I do the rest of the year and into next year will get me prepared on and off the wrestling mat.”