Maumelle repeats as state wrestling champion

Donna Lampkin Stephens/Contributing Writer Published April 3, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Maumelle’s Justin Butler, left, defeated Bismarck’s Aaron Whitehead in the Class 1A-5A 160-pound weight class of the high school state wrestling tournament. The victory was Butler’s third straight state championship.

MAUMELLE — Maumelle put up stellar numbers last year en route to winning the first team state championship in school history — wrestling.

In 2013, Ed Viera’s Hornets had four individual state champions and 12 medalists among 14 weight classes, and 10 athletes made all-state at the Arkansas High School State Wrestling Tournament. The Hornets recorded a team total of 288.5 points to win the Class 1A-5A state title, well ahead of runner-up Beebe (195.5) and third-place Central Arkansas Christian (192).

Incredibly, the 2014 numbers were even better.

Maumelle won nine individual state titles, had 13

medalists among 14 weight classes and placed 11 wrestlers on the all-state list. The Hornets tallied 352.5 points. Bismarck was second with 198, CAC was third with 196.5 and Greenbrier finished fourth with 192.5.

“This was a special group,” Viera said of a senior class of nine, five of whom will wrestle collegiately next year. “This is that first real senior class we’ve had (since he arrived in 2008 to resurrect the program). We had one senior last year and one the year before.”

The coach has filled out paperwork for the National Federation of State High School Associations to determine whether the point total is a national record for a state tournament.

“And the most I’ve found from one team was seven state champions in Florida a few years ago,” Viera said.

Maumelle’s individual state champions were Andrew Menchaca in the 106-pound weight class, Cole Brainerd in 126, Marcus Dennis in 138, Noah Hightower in 145, Willie Wright in 152, Justin Butler in 160, Keion McVay in 170, Daniel Viera in 182 and Malik Singleton in 220. Brainerd, Dennis, Hightower, Wright, Butler, McVay and Viera are all seniors.

McVay finished 46-1 for the season, losing only to Tyler Mann of Little Rock Central en route to McVay’s second straight state title.

“Our goal for this season was to go out there on the mat and get it done, and we did,” he said. “We needed people to step up, and they did.”

Brainerd, Butler and Daniel Viera are the sons of the Maumelle coaching staff. (Tony Brainerd and Blake Butler are Ed Viera’s assistants.) For the first time, all three wrestlers won state championships together.

“We say we hit the trifecta,” Ed Viera said.

Justin Butler won his third consecutive state title. Cole Brainerd won in 2012 and ’14; Daniel Viera was a state champion in ’13 and ’14.

Butler, whose two previous titles came in the 138 weight class, said the best part of this season’s accomplishment was having so many teammates join him as state champions.

“They made me proud,” he said.

Cole Brainerd’s state tournament experience was the best story of the season, Viera said. During the pre-tournament seeding meeting, there was a bit of controversy over where Cole should be seeded since he hadn’t wrestled any of the others in the tournament. Instead, he had faced competition from larger schools throughout the season, and his record was deceiving.

“I believed he should’ve been seeded second, but the Pulaski Academy coach thought his guy should’ve been seeded ahead of him, and Cole ended up seeded fourth,” Viera said. “Cole had the two most emotionally packed matches when he beat the No. 1 seed (Jacob Webb of Greenbrier in the semifinals) and the kid from PA (Jackson Marchant) in the finals.”

Cole said the low seed served as motivation for him.

“That was my drive for the tournament,” he said.

He will head to Arkansas Tech as a student next year, his wrestling career over.

“This was definitely a very good way for me to end my wrestling career,” he said. “I could not be happier with it.”

Also medaling for Maumelle were Gabe Crumley, runner-up in 195; Taylor Humphrey, third in 132; Bret Sherkenbach, fourth in 120; and Adam Nevarez, fifth in 113. Crumley and Nevarez are also seniors. All-staters — the top three in each weight class — included Menchaca, Brainerd, Humphrey, Dennis, Hightower, Wright, Butler, McVay, Viera, Crumley and Singleton.

Moving on to wrestle collegiately will be Hightower at Lyon College, Wright and McVay at Williams Baptist College; Crumley at Central Baptist College; and Daniel Viera at the United States Merchant Marine Academy.

Ed Viera arrived at Oak Grove High School in 2008 as an assistant football coach assigned wrestling as double duty. He also teaches history.

“Wrestling had sort of died out,” he said last year. “I had a group of kids who, when it started to get really tough, they all quit. So my second year, I recruited from my ninth-grade classes, honors and pre-AP students. I pulled those kids because I knew they had a better work ethic, and their parents were more goal-oriented. It wasn’t about participating but excelling.”

That group of freshmen is now the senior class of 2014. Their freshman year — Oak Grove’s final year of existence — the Hornets beat North Little Rock during a match.

“We started to turn the corner. It was the first time Oak Grove had beaten North Little Rock in anything in recorded history,” Viera said. “The kids said, ‘Wow, we made the front page of the paper.’ We ended up going to the state tournament with all those freshmen and finished seventh.

“I saw the potential that was there. At the final Oak Grove sports banquet, I made the statement that my goal was, the first state championship at Maumelle would be in wrestling.”

After a runner-up finish to Little Rock Christian in 2012, the Hornets are now two-time state champions.

Coach Viera and his staff have built the program on discipline.

“I just want kids that are going to do the right thing,” he said. “That’s my high expectation of them, that they’re going to conduct themselves well in school and be good ambassadors of Maumelle wherever we go.

“Wherever we go, people always say how well-behaved they are and how well they conduct themselves. It’s the little things I’m all about.”

As an example, the coach explained how the Hornets take their own garbage bags along to tournaments to clean up after themselves.

“Tournaments are all-day things, and that’s a lot of trash,” he said. “People notice and usually will say something about it. We have kids who do real well in school.”

Cole Brainerd called it “a really cool thing for us to earn our team’s reputation.”

Obviously, wrestling is a big deal at Maumelle.

“If you don’t pull your weight, you’re not going to be around very long,” coach Viera said.

Hightower transferred from Searcy for his senior season.

“I told his dad, ‘I can’t guarantee Noah is going to break into the starting lineup, but at Searcy, people know there’s a wrestling team, and nobody cares. At Maumelle, everybody knows who the wrestlers are,’” Viera said. “They have this invisible respect, maybe because of what we put them through as coaches. Nobody goes through what we put them through and what they put themselves through.”

That’s why, he said, most Maumelle wrestlers choose not to participate in other sports.

Despite graduating nine, the Hornets should be competitive again next year.

“We finished with 31 on the roster,” Viera said. “We have a full team returning. Right now I’m looking at a whole lineup that could have enough medalists that we could repeat again.”

The only thing better than two in a row would be three.

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