By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
There’s not much of a way to distinguish the value.
For Muskogee’s Dawaylon Barnes and Jacobe Smith along with Tahlequah’s Hestin Lamons, the state championship medals all look the same and the sense of accomplishment they felt at State Fair Arena in February was also similar.
So we won’t distinguish either in naming all three Co-Wrestlers of the Year.
The paths to reach the pinnacle had their own sets of hurdles, though.
For Barnes, who was third at 138 pounds a year ago as a junior, it was realizing that high expectations alone as a senior wasn’t going to cut it.
“It took losing a match in the Sand Springs tournament to a guy I’d beaten before,” he recalled. “That said to me ‘either get better or give up.’”
The “Ice Fighter” tag brought by former coaches Bob and Dan Jefferson might have left with them in a summer of controversy that resulted in their departure, but the mindset didn’t.
Barnes fought his way through that setback and in the end, rebounded from another match. He beat Paden Bailey of Broken Arrow 3-1 in the 152-pound finals at state after losing to him in a regional championship match. A takedown in the final 10 seconds was the difference at state. Bailey was third at 152 pounds the year before.
“I wrestled my match. I wasn’t cautious,” said Barnes, who finished the year 31-5. “All week people were telling me this may be your last memory as a wrestler, don’t hold anything back. The feeling I had in that last eight seconds was pure exhilaration.”
For Smith, it was overcoming a strategy that backfired in last year’s 152-pound state final – he intentionally allowed an escape against Bartlesville’s Michael Hamilton in an attempt to position himself for a takedown that he could never execute.
“My focus was never in the right spot in that match anyway,” Smith said. “I was too caught up in nerves and all the people watching me and the atmosphere at state.”
When Smith beat Hamilton in the semifinal this year, the atonement drive was hampered – somewhat.
“It was still about unfinished business. Finishing second wasn’t part of that plan,” he said.
And it wouldn’t come down to a late strategic move. He outpointed Zach Walton of Edmond North 5-2 in the 160-pound final, capping a 31-3 year. One of the first people Smith saw as the match ended was Dan Jefferson. The two embraced, Jefferson there as a Union assistant rather as an associated head coach at MHS when his dad’s head-coaching job went to John Petty.
“I’ve been blessed by a lot of coaches,” Smith said. “You never like to see a change in coaches and people who have meant something to you. But that was out of my control and I couldn’t let that change my focus.”
Lamons, who was third at 145 last year, knew he had a target on his back as a senior and at 35-1, he pretty much lived up to it except for that one hiccup against Austin Eades of Jenks in the Pryor tournament in January
“I felt up to then I was the guy to beat and I was feeling that pressure quite a bit,” he said. “I probably beat 10 6A guys this year but I hadn’t ever wrestled him before ever, didn’t even know him and I think he got third at state. But he made me feel like I wasn’t the guy anymore and that changed my mentality. I became more self-driven.”
But it wasn’t just that loss. There was that perhaps divine revelation hours before his championship match, a vision that came to him during a power nap.
Lamons saw himself using a double-leg move to drop Wyatt Jordan of Collinsville on his back. A double-leg isn’t a move Lamons usually uses.
“I still don’t understand it.” Lamons said. “I just remember waking up and thinking ‘holy cow’ and the first thing I did was tell (teammate) Mitch Sellers about it. I’m glad I did because had I said anything after it happened no one would have believed me.”
Lamons did it. Ahead on points at the time, it sealed the deal.
Smith, who recently went to Pennsylvania to a national tournament and won his only match there, and Lamons, who is in Virginia Beach, Va., at a national tournament this weekend, are both headed for Oklahoma State. Smith still has some academic clearances between him and Stillwater. Barnes, meanwhile, has had some out of state offers from small schools and is entertaining the notion of joining his fellow honorees as a walk-on.