Georgetown High School wrestler Jalil Smith, center, shows off the bracket for the 220-pound weight class after beating Kyle Burton, left, and Temaris Dixon, right, to win a state championship.
Waccamaw High School wrestler John Van Slooten pinned three opponents to win the state championship at 145 pounds. Van Slooten has won three state titles in three years.
By Chris Sokoloski
Two Georgetown County wrestlers – Jalil Smith and John Van Slooten – won state titles in Anderson last weekend.
Smith is a sophomore at Georgetown High and Van Slooten is a junior at Waccamaw High.
“It’s very exciting,” Smith said. “I get to walk around with a ring on my finger. I’m going to use it to motivate my teammates.”
Smith is the fourth Georgetown High wrestler to win a state title, but the first in more than a decade.
“It’s going to create a lot more buzz about the team,” said Bulldogs coach Sean Griffin. “The administration is very supportive and a lot of the students are very excited.”
Smith started wrestling as an eighth-grader after watching his older brother, Jamel, compete. Although he was only wrestling junior varsity matches, Smith told Griffin his goal was to compete for a state title.
Smith was third at the Lower State meet at 220 pounds, but was disappointed to find himself ranked seventh at the State meet.
“I had to prove them wrong,” he said.
He opened the tournament by pinning Gabriel Clark of Chapman.
In the semi-finals he met a familiar foe: Lower State champion Kyle Burton of Region VII-AAA rival Socastee High. Smith and Burton had already wrestled three times this season and Burton had won two of those matches.
“We have a pretty strong region so they raises the level of competition for the kids,” Grffin said.
Smith calls the 8-6 victory over Burton the “hardest” of the tournament.
In the title match, Smith needed less than five minutes to pin Temaris Dixon of Chester High.
Smith’s family did not travel to the State meet, but surprised him with a celebratory party when he returned home.
“He’s a good kid,” Griffin said. “I’m kind of excited that he’ll be coming back the next few years.”
Van Slooten is the first wrestler for the five-year old Waccamaw program to win a Lower State title and the first to win a State title.
“I’m really excited,” said Van Slooten, who won the 145-pound title. “It’s great to keep achieving.”
Van Slooten pinned all of his opponents at the Lower State and State meets.
It’s the third state wrestling title for Van Slooten, who also won in his freshman and sophomore years at St. James High School. He was the first state champion wrestler for the Sharks.
Van Slooten has lost only two matches in his high school career, both during his freshman year. One of the losses was an injury default he took to improve his seeding at the State tournament.
He was 41-0 this season and his 129 victories already rank in the top 10 in South Carolina history.
“I’ve been wrestling all my life,” Van Slooten said. “It’s the biggest thing in my life. It’s always been something I was very good at.”
When Van Slooten was a third-grader in New Jersey he was already training for six hours a day.
For the fourth start year Van Slooten will compete in Nationals. He’d like to improve on two runner-up finishes.
Four other Georgetown County wrestlers competed for state titles.
Georgetown High’s Dustin Pack, who placed fourth at 138 pounds at the Lower State meet, finished fifth at the state meet.
Waccamaw High’s Hunter Brininger, who placed fourth at 285 pounds at Lower State, was fifth at State. Also competing for Waccamaw were Arman Singh at 126 pounds and Travis Pierce at 220. It was the first time Waccamaw had four wrestlers competing for a state title.
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