Josh Stephens already had 51 wins on the season and 194 in his prep wrestling career, but he wasn’t satisfied. Stephens wanted one more. The match was no ordinary bout, however. The winner would be crowned the NCHSAA 2A State Champion for the 145 pound weight class. Stephens got that win and with it, the state title that eluded him for three seasons.
“This year I just took it one match at a time,” Stephens said. “Last year I got a little cocky and I looked ahead and got beat in the quarterfinals. I remembered that and kept working hard. I did not let up this year and it paid off.”
Stephens could not afford to let up in the championship match as he was facing Ashe County’s Michael Elliot who had only suffered one defeat on the year.
Stephens bolted to a quick 4-0 lead thanks to a takedown and a reversal. Elliot came back to tie the match at 4-4, but Stephens recorded an escape and another takedown in quick succession to lead 7-4 at the end of the second period. From that point Stephens was able to hold on for the 10-8 victory.
“I knew he was going to pressure me, especially in the third period,” Stephens said. “I knew I had to keep moving my feet to clear him and create angles.”
With the win, Stephens improved to a perfect 52-0 on the season while posting an impressive 195-16 record for his career. During that career, Stephens rewrote the record books for two county programs, R-S Central and Chase.
After posting a perfect record at R-S Middle School, Stephens became the first Hilltopper freshmen to qualify for the state tournament.
After transferring to Chase as a junior, he now owns the first undefeated season and the first wrestling championship for the Trojan program. Stephens’s career mark also surpasses that of his current coach, Adam Dedmon (140-25) for first place in Chase history.
“Going into high school, I thought I knew everything because I set all those records and went undefeated in middle school,” said Stephens. “I realize now that I was an inexperienced snot-nosed freshman. I’ve grown and changed so much as a wrestler and as a person. I’m a more complete and versatile wrestler now. I used to only go for one kind of takedown. It was flashy, but people knew that I was going to do it and they started blocking it. I hardly ever use that move now. I wrestle a more conventional style and I do a lot of different takedowns so people don’t know what to expect. I think that’s what took me to the next level.”
Stephens’s wrestling journey began long before his middle school or prep career, however, as he first hit the mat in third grade.
“I went to one of my brother’s matches up at R-S Middle and I was hooked,” remembers Stephens. “I told my parents that I didn’t want to play football anymore. I wanted to concentrate on wrestling and I have been ever since.”
Dedmon has had a hand in Stephens’s development as a wrestler from the very beginning.
“When Josh was in third grade, he would come over to my house with his brother and they would roll around in my living room floor,” said Dedmon. “I would teach them moves and I knew then that Josh was going to be something special.”
When he reached the fifth grade, Stephens joined the Strong and Courageous Wrestling Club based in Hendersonville where he still wrestles today.
“Club wrestling has really helped me because it teaches you so many different styles,” said Stephens. “The basics are the same but there are some differences that, if you can learn them, will really help on the high school level.”
Wrestling for a club team has also given Stephens the chance to compete internationally as he has traveled to Puerto Rico and Scotland for tournaments.
“Those were fun,” said Stephens of his tournaments overseas. “It took a while to get used to the different styles, especially wrestling in a kilt, but it’s something I’ll never forget.”
“Club wrestling has really been beneficial for Josh,” added Dedmon. “Wresting is a year-round sport now and there is no doubt it has helped prepare him for the state championship stage. Josh is a great example for my other kids to see how much club wrestling can help them. Hopefully, they will get involved. “
Even though his high school career is coming to a close, Stephens plans to wrestle on the collegiate level at Spartanburg Methodist, before transferring to UNC Pembroke or Appalachian State. After college, Stephens wants to stay involved with wrestling.
“I know I want to stay involved with it but I don’t know how,” he said. “I might be a coach or start my own club team. Right now though, I am focused on finishing up here and getting ready for college.”
For his part, Dedmon believes that Stephens will join the coaching ranks one day.
“Josh is already a coach,” he said. “He is able to teach and help the younger guys out and that takes some of the pressure off of me. I’m going to miss that next year.”
No matter what Stephens future plans are, he will have to put them on hold for a little longer. Due to his victory in the state title match, Stephens will represent North Carolina in the National Tournament of Champions held in Virginia Beach later this spring. Only the top two seniors from each state are chosen to compete against other wrestlers from across the United States for a national championship.
“Winning a state championship was great because all my hard work paid off,” said Stephens. “But I’m not done yet. I’ve still got one tournament left.”