Henry Clay wrestlers leaning on seniors to meet lofty goals

mfields@herald-leader.comFebruary 13, 2014 

  • This weekend

    Region 7 wrestling meet

    When: 7 p.m. Friday; 9:30 a.m. Saturday

    Where: Wayne County High School

    Teams: Boyle Co., Bryan Station, Danville, Henry Clay, Lafayette, Lexington Christian, Madison Central, Madison Southern, McCreary Central, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Tates Creek, Wayne Co. and Whitley Co.

Henry Clay's best showing in the state wrestling tournament was a fifth-place finish in 2000. Andy Critchfield took third in the 140-pound weight class for the Blue Devils that year.

Critchfield, now in his ninth season as Henry Clay's coach, thinks this year's Devils have a chance to outdo the 2000 team.

"That's our goal and it's been very clear from the beginning of the year," Critchfield said. "These guys believe they can crack the top five.

"I don't know if we're on the radar of other teams, but we think we can do it."

A talented senior class, led by Mike Whalen and identical twins David and John Hernandez, is Henry Clay's strength going into this weekend's regional tournament at Wayne County.

Whalen, who was undefeated state champion at 106 pounds when he was a sophomore, and third at 120 pounds last year, is now at 145 pounds. He's 31-2 and rated second in the state.

Whalen said it's been an adjustment moving up several weight classes. "Little guys have a little quicker style, but at 145 guys are real strong, so I've had to get stronger."

Critchfield said Whalen has also "improved his technique and gotten more versatile. He has multiple ways to attack now.

"He's really worked hard. I think taking third last year rekindled that flame. He's hungry for another title."

Whalen admitted he wants to finish off his six-year career "on top of the podium."

So do the Hernandez twins, whom Critchfield described as "hard-nosed, and real strong for their size, and they've got big hearts."

Critchfield also called them "funky."

Funky?

"They have an unorthodox style," the coach said. "They wrestle with a lot of feel, and they have great balance, whether they're upside down or rightside up."

David and John agreed they have an unusual style. They said it comes from their involvement in jiu-jitsu, a martial art.

"We create our own moves. We can work anything from any position," David said. "We picked it up from jiu-jitsu and turned it into wrestling."

David has a 28-3 record and is No. 2 in the state at 106 pounds. He's split matches with top-rated Tucker Hurst of Woodford County.

"David finished fifth last year, so he's been here before," Critchfield said. "If he sticks to his game plan and wrestles aggressively, there's not a person he can't beat."

John Hernandez, who was state runner-up at 113 last year, is rated No. 1 going into the post-season. He has a 26-5 record, but is undefeated in his weight class.

"He's very dominant right now," Critchfield said.

John said the key to winning will be "to wrestle smart and don't be too cocky. Wrestle everyone like it's the state finals."

If Henry Clay is to reach its lofty goal in the state tournament, it will need contributions from its other seniors.

David Tuduri (138 pounds) hasn't lost since the first week of the season. Nathan Moore (220) leads the team in pins.

Noah Gawthorp (132), Nathan Ogg (170) and Jordan Caldwell (heavyweight) are also being counted on to qualify for state.

Lafayette has three wrestlers rated in the state's top 10. Landon Young is No. 1 among heavyweights. (He was state runner-up last year.) Jon Green is No. 4 at 152 pounds, and Angel Vasquez is No. 9 at 138.

Realignment put Henry Clay and the other Lexington schools in a new region that doesn't include perennial power Woodford County.

The new region includes Boyle County, Danville, Madison Central, Madison Southern, McCreary Central, Wayne County and Whitley County.

The top four finishers in each weight class qualify for the state tournament, which will be Feb. 21-22 at the Kentucky Horse Park's Alltech Arena.

Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.

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