Cascia, BK Wrestlers are Headed to D-I Institutions
By MIKE MOGUIN
Left: TANNER SKIDGEL: Cascia Hall’s Tanner Skidgel celebrates after winning state at 152 pounds in Class 4A. He plans to attend the Naval Academy.Right: MATT SMITH: Bishop Kelley’s Matt Smith celebrates after winning state at 220 pounds in Class 5A. He plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Tanner Skidgel of Cascia Hall and Matt Smith of Bishop Kelley have some things in common. Both are seniors about to graduate from Catholic schools, have state championships in wrestling and are bound for D-I programs.
Skidgel won the 152-pound championship bout in Class 4A with a 4-0 win against Dustin Plott of Tuttle. Smith was a victor in the 220-pound weight division in 5A after he scored a 7-3 victory against Josh Heindselman of Piedmont. The matches took place in February in the state tournament in Oklahoma City.
Both have endured different roads en route to their titles.
Skidgel, who has wrestled most of his life, closed his high school grappling career as a three-time state champion. He lost last year after being a state champ his freshman and sophomore years.
While his older brother, Scout, who graduated last year, celebrated a second state championship a year ago, Tanner endured the pain of losing in the final.
“It felt good to be back on top because I felt like I was missing something last year,” Skidgel says. “I’m always used to winning state, and I felt disappointed when I didn’t win it. But after I won state this year, I felt like I got redemption back.”
Tanner Skidgel lost to another Tuttle contender, Tanner Litterell, last year. Litterell, also a senior and committed to the University of Oklahoma, dropped down to wrestle at 138, going on to win state in that weight class.
Although Skidgel was hoping for another shot at the Sooner commit, having won against a foe from Tuttle was also a satisfying accomplishment since the Tigers are both a perennial power and a dynasty and have been for the past two decades.
“It’s always nice to beat a Tuttle kid,” Skidgel says. “They just dominate our class every year. We could never beat them as a team (in duals), so it’s nice to beat at least one of their wrestlers.”
Skidgel will soon be joining his brother at the Naval Academy, whom he signed with to wrestle in college.
En route to the shutout in the state finals match, Skidgel earned points on a takedown (2), an escape (1) and Plott getting called for stalling twice (1).
“I’d say riding was the key moment,” Skidgel says, adding “because I knew that I could take him down and get away from him pretty easily. When I wrestled him at regionals, he escaped from me twice. But, this time, I knew I could ride him out for the rest of the first period and then in the whole third period. I didn’t want him to have any chance at beating me, because I would have to wrestle him with a short lead with short time left.”
From the last whistle of last year’s loss to the final moment of this year’s victory, Skidgel always had that defeat on his mind in every practice.
“It was really motivating to think about whenever I didn’t want to do one more rep or one more takedown, or if I didn’t want to wrestle live, like one more go, I could just think back to that and let it motivate me,” Skidgel says. “I would tell myself that I was going to have a tough match in the state finals, and I had to win and get redemption from last year.”
For Smith, it was his first ever title. Having begun as a freshman, he placed third as a sophomore and was runner-up as a junior.
“It was the culmination of four years of hard work and dedication,” Smith says. “It has been my goal. It has kept me awake at night for the past four years. Now I can sleep easy.”
A takedown he applied to Heindselman set the tone.
“The first takedown set the tone, like the very end of the first period. I took him down with like three seconds left. That really opened it up.
“I was an undersized 220. My game plan and tactics were that nobody could beat me on my feet. I could try to get guys moving and usually, it wears on them. I don’t take them down right away. I have to move them first and set my shots up and then, eventually, I can take (opponents) down. That was kind of the beginning of the end for him.”
Smith will be going east to wrestle at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill on a scholarship.
“I love wrestling,” he says.