Pelham’s Hipolito wins state title, others finish high at state tourney

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

HUNTSVILLE – With everything on the line each time he stepped on the mat between Feb. 18 and 20 at Huntsville’s Von Braun Center, Rafael Hipolito came ready for a battle.

The Pelham wrestler made easy work in the first two rounds of the 2021 Class 5A-6A AHSAA State Tournament, picking up pins to advance to the quarterfinals. That’s when the battle for the state championship got interesting.

Taking on the best wrestlers in the state, Hipolito won his quarterfinal match against Stanhope Elmore’s Connor Russo with a 10-6 decision, which advanced him to the semifinals and put him two wins from a state championship.

But in order to get to the top of the podium, he had to square off against two of the best wrestlers in the state in the 160-pound weight class from two of the best teams.

It started in the semifinals against Gardendale’s Carson Kim. Nothing about the matchup was easy, but Hipolito found a way to grab a 5-4 decision victory to stay alive and advance to the championship.

That led to a championship battle with Oxford’s Jakob Chisolm, who with Hipolito, was one of the top two wrestlers in the class.

Another tight battle ensued, but Chisolm’s path to the title hadn’t featured as much adversity.

Hipolito was ready for another tight battle, which led to him finishing an exciting season off with a 12-8 decision victory to claim the 160-pound state championship.

He was the only state champion from Shelby County in the 5A-6A classification this year, but he wasn’t the only highlight.

Wrestlers from Chelsea, Pelham and Helena combined to have four additional wrestlers finish inside the top three in their weight class, while three others finished inside the top six.

The Hornets and Panthers had the next two highest finishers with Chelsea’s Cale Tucker finishing second in the 106-pound classification, while Pelham’s Seth Branham finished second in the 170-pound classification.

Tucker was the lone wrestler from the Hornets to advance to a state championship matchup. The Chelsea wrestler won his first four matchups with one pin and three decision victories in a row. He took on Brodie Christmas in the first-place match, but Christmas became too much and went on to win via 9-1 major decision.

Branham’s tournament was similar, but he put together three pins in his first four matches along with a 5-1 decision win.

He went on to wrestle Caleb Roe in the 170-pound title match, but Branham fell in a tight 7-2 decision to finish second in the weight class.

Chelsea and Pelham were also had two others finish third in the tournament with Preston Royster doing so for the Hornets in the 182-pound weight class and Bryce Wanagat doing so for the Panthers in the 132-pound weight class.

Royster’s path saw him win his first three matches with two pins and a tech fall before he lost to Wetumpka’s Mason Blackwell in a 7-2 decision in the semifinals.

Royster, however, bounced back with a decision and a pin to win the third-place match and finish on the podium.

Wanagat was one of the busiest wrestlers at the tournament, taking part in seven matches. He started the tournament with two pins before losing to Southside-Gadsden’s Jcaob Dease in the quarterfinals.

That put him in a battle for third place.

Wanagat needed to win four matches in a row to do so, and he did just that.

He used a decision, a pin and a medical forfeit to get to the third-place match. That’s when he took down Satsuma’s William Walker with a pin thanks to a fall time of 2:59 to complete his tournament.

Chelsea’s Adam Byerman finished fifth in the 126-pound weight class as the next highest finisher. He won five of his seven matches with two pins and three decisions.

Pelham added a sixth-place finisher in Jake Ingram. Wrestling in the 195-pound classification, Ingram picked up four wins in seven matches thanks to three decisions and one pin.

Helena had three wrestlers place at the state tournament as well.

Levi McGrew was the highest of the three in sixth. He wrestled in eight matches and won five of them with two pins, two decisions and an injury default to finish sixth in the 113-pound weight class.

Behind that, Justin Yunke finished seventh in the 160-pound weight class. Yunke won four matches out of six thanks to two pins, one decision and an ultimate tiebreaker.

Seth McGrew was the final to place thanks to finishing eighth in the 126-pound weight class. He picked up three wins in six matches with one pin, one major-decision victory and a decision win to become the final wrestler to place from Shelby County.