The comparisons between Vian’s River Simon and Checotah’s Cade Shropshire are strikingly similar.
Coming into this year, both had won state championships in wrestling, Simon as a sophomore at 170 pounds and Shropshire as a junior at 152.
Simon went 25-1 this year, his only loss being to a state champion in a higher classification who went unbeaten on the year.
Shropshire went 33-1 this year, his only loss over the past two seasons coming against a state champion at a higher classification, who went unbeaten on the year.
Simon wrestled with a fractured elbow held together by pins, wires and screws for a year, including the duration of his senior football season.
Shropshire has what he calls a shallow knee cap that has popped out during four matches. Then, in the regional final, he suffered a ligament injury in one knee, one that awaits an MRI.
Yet through it all, both earned additional championships, Simon at 182 in Class 3A, pinning Kohl Owen of Perry in 3 minutes, 41 seconds, and Shropshire at 160, also in 3A, in a ultimate tiebreaker, 3-2, against Tyler Lavey of Marlow.
And in an appropriately too close to call dilemma, both will share the 2018-19 Phoenix Wrestler of the Year honor. Simon will also tote the label of Outstanding Upperweight Wrestler, and Shropshire, Outstanding Middleweight Wrestler.
Last week, Simon was set free from the hardware in his right elbow and can now begin focusing on a wrestling and cadet career at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
“My sophomore year I broke the other one in week 8 or 9 of football but that one healed quick and I got to wrestle the rest of the season,” Simon said, referring to his sophomore campaign at 170 and a title there. “Same thing happened my junior year and it didn’t heal.”
Undaunted, Simon still tried to figure out a way to compete that year. In a family of brothers who have battled through multiple injuries their entire high school career as multi-sport athletes, he decided to spar with the middle of three boys, Rylee.
“Yeah, I was going to try to wrestle with it broke. But Rylee wound up hurting my ankle and when that happened, that was the deciding factor (in taking the year off)” River said.
After playing quarterback and mike linebacker this fall, leading the Wolverines three games into the postseason, Simon at last got back into the wrestling groove. At dual state, Vian drew 3A dynasty Perry in the first round. The initial match was at 195, and Simon wrestled up a weight and pinned Bayden Blocker of Perry in 47 seconds.
“We wanted to get the momentum early and it’s good to have a senior like River there to come in and set the tone,” Vian coach Beau Burlison said. “That’s the kind of kid he is.”
The match with Owen at state took a tad longer. Once Simon put Owen on his back, he was in control, and soon, a champion for the first time since his last tour of duty in 2017.
If only that ankle hadn’t gotten hurt sparring with his brother, who knows. There might have been three straight titles.
“River had it in him to do it,” Burlison said. “He’s overcome aches and pains his whole career because he plays and practices so hard he never gives himself a chance to recover. He won’t make an excuse, he doesn’t look for one and you have to pretty much tell him to chill out.”
Three titles would have shattered some of the similarities between Simon and Shropshire. The latter lost once as a sophomore and settled for a consolation title at 126. Last year, he knocked off Jonathan McGowan of Hulbert in a major decision at 152 and then this year, took out Lavey, who was runner-up at 160 a year ago, by a 3-2 count.
“The second (championship) was harder. Two different styles between us,” Shropshire said. “He was a good defensive wrestler and I’m really offensive, so he came in game-planned. He knew he had to defend and not get taken down, which he didn’t. He was long and strong. He did a good job.”
It was a rematch of the previous week at regionals, Shropshire winning at Marlow 3-2, just not in overtime. But it was in that match where Shropshire’s knee ligaments gave way.
The pop-out happened the next week.
“He wasn’t 100 percent. He was good enough to grit it out and win,” said Checotah coach Brett Oleson, a former Bacone wrestling coach hired last summer who only got the opportunity to coach Shropshire his senior season.
“To have a kid like him is a coaches’ dream,” Oleson said. “The thing I was worried about coming in to this job was whether he would be like some who, after they have success, they expect success and don’t work as hard. Cade worked as if he’d never won a state title. He was one of I’d say, the top five hardest working kids I’ve ever coached at any level.”
Ahead for Shropshire is a decision on where to wrestle collegiately — Central Oklahoma or Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas.
“I’m almost there. It’s a tough deal because I know a bunch of the wrestlers at UCO, I have a bunch of friends there and it’s close to home,” he said. “The Ouachita offer is a really good one and I liked the campus — it’s more what you think of with a college atmosphere.”
A third honoree has some time to spare before thinking about college. Wagoner’s Braden Drake has two more seasons to wrestle as a Bulldog and a chance to win three state titles after claiming his first this year at 120 in Class 4A.
Chosen as the Phoenix’s Outstanding Lighterweights Wrestler, Drake went 39-5 and slew a giant in the finals. Tuttle’s Reese Davis beat him in the Dual State championship matchup, 14-11. It was one of the closest battles in a dual Tuttle won 63-0, its third in as many shutouts in the tournament.
“It was the next to last match of the dual and they’ve got everything in hand,” Wagoner coach Micco Charboneau said. “The crowd was in it and (Davis) didn’t want to be the only one that lost that entire day.”
Drake won the rematch in Oklahoma City, 3-2. Oklahoma City was also a day of redemption against Evan Kennedy of Cushing, who beat Drake 3-2 in an ultimate tiebreaker in Dual State. Drake won by the same score in a first-round matchup two weeks later in the individual format.
“We were worried about that one even though it was a misinterpretation of the rules regarding stalling out a match that cost him in duals,” Charboneau said.
“But after duals, he wrestled pissed, he was angry. He worked extra minutes here and there and he got the job done.”