The whistle blew and a bolt of the most severe pain Joe Rice ever felt shot through his body.
As the New Plymouth senior and a Ridgevue wrestler untangled during a dual a month ago, Rice’s right knee contorted as his foot was shoved up to his chest, tearing four ligaments.
“You could tell in his eyes he thought he was done (for the season),” New Plymouth coach Caleb Campbell said.
But the 138-pounder limped through the match, did three weeks of rehab away from the mat and donned a bulky knee brace throughout the 2A state tournament at Pocatello’s Holt Arena. Despite having just one 30-second competitive match since the injury, Rice mowed through the field to become the 25th wrestler in Idaho history to win four state titles.
“It feels good that my name is going to be there forever,” Rice said. “I can’t even explain it.”
Rice said the brace limited his flexibility and range of motion, putting him at a disadvantage on the ground. But the senior pinned his first-round opponent, advanced to the finals with 10-3 and 7-3 decisions, and then pinned Aberdeen’s Carson Beck in 1 minute, 56 seconds.
Rice popped up, flashed four fingers to the crowd and pointed to the New Plymouth section.
“All this hard work that I’ve put in over the years has come to this one point, and it showed,” Rice said. “I was super happy, kind of emotional. I had a lot of ups and downs this season.”
Rice said using the injury as an excuse was never an option.
“I just have faith in myself and in my training,” he said. “I’ve had teammates in the past, Levi Austin, who won a state finals with several broken bones. If he could do it, I could do it.”
Campbell first met Rice as a fiery eighth-grader who wasn’t afraid of anyone when he took over the New Plymouth program five years ago. He quickly learned never to doubt him.
“He would just light people up,” Campbell said. “I knew from the start, from the first time I met him, this was a special kid.”
Rice said the knee has healed well, but doctors will make the final call on whether he needs surgery. He contemplated taking three months off from the mat to let it fully heal before quickly correcting himself.
His dream of a college wrestling future still remains in front of him. He’s scheduled several visits this spring, and he’s too proud to set foot on campus in anything but his best shape.
“Maybe a few little light practices here and there,” Rice joked. “I’ve got this brace still. I can’t stand not wrestling for three months.”
CALDWELL’S HUDSON GETS REVENGE
Lakeland’s Larry Johnson topped Caldwell’s Christian Hudson 6-3 last year for a state title. But Hudson returned the favor Saturday in the 4A 145-pound division.
One of the most anticipated matchups of the tournament lived up to the billing as Hudson pulled out a 2-1 victory in double-overtime against the three-time state champ.
Hudson wrestled at 152 most of the year, but he cut weight to get down to 145 at Rollie Lane and at state to square off with Johnson.
“I wanted that match,” Hudson said, “and I knew he did, too.”
The only points in the match came via escapes when either started a round on the ground. Hudson nabbed an escape in the third round to force overtime, then got another in the second overtime before successfully riding out Johnson to cap his undefeated season at 42-0.
“It’s just overwhelming right now,” Hudson said. “It hasn’t hit yet, but it will soon.”
POST FALLS CRUISES TO RECORD
The Trojans ran away with their third 5A team state championship in four years with 338.5 points, setting an all-classification scoring record.
Post Falls had seven individual champions, sent 10 wrestlers to the finals and had 15 earn a top-six finish, all school records.
“It’s a talented team and we knew we had a chance to win a title,” Post Falls coach Pete Reardon said. “But I never would have picked this team to be the team to break that scoring record. It’s an unbelievable accomplishment.”
Post Falls junior Ridge Lovett continued his undefeated run through high school competition, beating Hillcrest’s Derek Ramos 10-4 for the 126-pound title. He’ll enter his senior season 125-0 and with a shot to become the first 5A wrestler in Idaho to go undefeated since Sandpoint’s Jared Lawrence finished 133-0 in 1998.
BORAH HEAVYWEIGHT PINS HIS WAY TO TITLE
A flu that kept Borah senior George Barrera home from school all week didn’t affect him on the mat.
The future Weber State offensive lineman pinned all four opponents he faced at the 5A state tournament to win his first title. The first three came in under a minute before he took 2:39 to pin Rigby’s Jose Vallejo in the championship match.
BK WINS RARE CHAMPIONSHIP
After a runner-up finish last year, Bishop Kelly junior Kash Anderson rolled to a 12-2 victory in the 4A 195-pound championship match.
The state title is the first individual championship for the Knights since Josh Schaffeld won the 189-pound title in 2010. Schaffeld is an assistant coach at Bishop Kelly and sat in Anderson’s corner Saturday.
Anderson said the title will serve as a springboard for the BK program.
“It’s going to grow a ton,” Anderson said. “Last year, our seniors started it off. And from here, it’s just going to keep growing.”
FAGEN CONTINUES DOMINANCE
Fruitland junior Jonathon Fagen pinned Snake River’s Ceaton Howell in 3:04 to roll his way to his third state title, pinning each opponent along the way.
Fagen, a reigning Cadet Greco-Roman national champion, has won every tournament he’s entered the past two years. And he’ll remain a heavy favorite for a fourth title next season.
Treasure Valley champions
- 106: Michael Mitchell, Kuna
- 145: Kekana Fouret, Columbia**
- 182: Hayes Neukom, Meridian
- 195: Abe Turpen, Capital
- 285: George Barrera, Borah
- 138: Monte Zufelt, Emmett**
- 145: Christian Hudson, Caldwell
- 195: Kash Anderson, Bishop Kelly
- 160: Jesse Camacho, Parma**
- 182: Jonathon Fagen, Fruitland***
- 195: Jason Gissel, Fruitland
- 106: Cameron Williams, Melba**
- 138: Joe Rice, New Plymouth****
- 220: Mason Hall, Marsing
** - back-to-back state champ
*** - three-time state champ
**** - four-time state champ