ASHEBORO — The success the Uwharrie Charter Academy wrestling program has experienced over the years can be seen in many ways.
There are numerous conference titles, two dual meet state championships, an incredible number of wrestlers who qualified for the state meet and there are those who have taken home the ultimate individual honor.
This year, the Eagles will have a whopping 10 representatives at the state 1-A championships with two of those wrestlers returning to a very familiar place as Aldo Hernandez and Grayson Roberts will be competing in their fourth state championship meet.
Both will be defending state titles as Hernandez, who spent his freshman and sophomore years at Montgomery Central, is a two-time defending champion and Roberts returns to defend a title he captured last year.
Both secured Eastern Regional championships this past Saturday at Uwharrie Charter High School. Hernandez captured the title in the 138-pound weight class and Roberts earned the regional title at 170 pounds.
Hernandez will take a 54-2 record to Greensboro. On Saturday in the regional tournament, he earned a first-round bye before recording a fall in the second round, a technical fall win in the semifinals and he claimed the title when Pamlico County’s Jack Whitley defaulted because of injury in the first round of the title match.
Hernandez had already built a comfortable lead on points when the injury occurred.
“He’s incredibly gifted,” UCA wrestling coach Chris Waddell said. “He wrestles year round and he’s putting in all the time and all the work. Technically, he’s really grown. He’s a real tough kid and an exceptional athlete.”
Hernandez, who will be wrestling for Appalachian State collegiately, has an overall record of 184-16. He will fall short of his goal of reaching 200 wins because of the COVID year, but his goal of reaching the state championship in each of his four seasons will be realized.
“Since I started wrestling in the eighth grade, it was my goal to make it to the state tournament, and when I got there my freshman year, my goal was to get back and win it,” Hernandez said. “I am just working on improving every week.”
Even though Hernandez spent the past two seasons with the proverbial target on his singlet, he never let the pressure to succeed get to him.
“It can be where there’s a lot of pressure to go out there and win because that’s what people expect of you and that’s what you gotta do,” Hernandez said. “For me, I know if I wrestle my match, I’m going to be fine.”
Hernandez will spend the next week preparing for a three-peat.
“I am going to soak in every moment, this is my last go around,” Hernandez said of his high school career winding down. “It’s a special thing being able to wrestle at the Coliseum in front of a big crowd.”
Roberts knows that feeling well, too. He’ll get to experience that for a fourth time after his regional win last Saturday. Roberts had a first-round bye and followed that with pins in the first period, third period and second period in the regional finals.
“He’s very strong on his feet,” Waddell said. “He leads our team in takedowns. He’s good at all three positions.”
Roberts climbed the stepladder in his three previous state tournaments, placing third as a freshman in the 145-pound weight class, second as a sophomore at 152 and first last year at 162. He is 53-4 this year and 155-17 over four years at UCA.
“Going to the state tournament four times is a great accomplishment, but my ultimate goal is to win another state championship,” Roberts said. “I’m very goal oriented. I like to have fun like any kid would, but whenever I step into the wrestling room, I don’t joke around and am very serious.”
Like Hernandez, Roberts has plenty of state tournament experience and he hopes that continues to be a benefit this year.
“My freshman year, I was really nervous,” Roberts said. “The next year it got a little bit easier and then a little bit easier. Of course, you have to try and have fun when you’re there.”
No doubt, Hernandez and Roberts have had outstanding high school careers. But there’s still one more thing that Hernandez and Roberts hope to accomplish. And that can be taken care of this weekend.