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2018 a big year for local sports

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For Altus and surrounding communities, 2018 was a big year in high school athletics, and as a tribute to 2018, we’ve compiled our top 12 stories of the year. They’ve been listed in chronological order and include a small excerpt from the original story. All stories were written by Ryan Lewis.

Athletes ink letters of intent (Feb. 8)

Six athletes from Altus High School made their dreams a reality when they signed letters of intent to continue participating in their chosen sports in college.

Of the six athletes who will be moving on, five — Jake Vargas, Keegan Shive, Brenden Phillips, Jazerick Pitts, Kade Wilson — are from the Altus High School football program. Coach Todd Vargas said he is excited for each player and that he cannot wait to see what they accomplish in the future.

“I can’t put into words how proud I am of these young men,” Vargas said. “They are not only going on to play football at a university, they are making a conscious decision to step into a direction that will shape the rest of their lives. They are committing to an education and they are going to a place to find new people that will influence them in the next phase of their lives.”

Aside from the five football players, Altus girls’ soccer player Kady Worth was also on hand where she signed a commitment to play for Rose State College in Midwest City.

Bridges success shines spotlight on Altus (Feb. 10)

Far away from home in Laramie, a former Bulldog is making his mark on the wrestling world at the University of Wyoming. Wrestlers like Montorie Bridges are a rare breed and in his young career as a Cowboy, Bridges is quickly making a name for himself.

In January, at the North Carolina Duals, Bridges wrestled his way to a perfect 4-0 record in the 133-pound division. The magnitude of his performance was not lost on the Big 12 and for his outstanding display, Bridges was honored as the Big 12 Wrestler of the Week, an honor he said he never imagined he would receive.

“It was definitely a confidence boost for me,” Bridges said. “It’s not something that everyone wins in their career, let alone their freshman season. But it helps keep my humble, knowing that I can be on the opposite end of a match at anytime and be the reason that someone else gets that award instead.”

Kobi becomes the latest Gomez to win state title (March 3)

The Altus Bulldog wrestling program has seen its fair share of state championship wrestlers. Until February, there were 15 total champions during the 13-year tenure of coach Nick Williams. Now, that number is 16 with the championship win of 132-pound wrestler Kobi Gomez at the Class 5A State Championship Wrestling tournament.

Gomez, a junior, said being trained by Williams played a massive role in his success, and he is just one of the many wrestlers who wore T-Shirts emblazoned with “Williams Trained” on the front.

“‘Williams Trained’ means you give 100 percent, 100 percent of the time,” Gomez said. “Coach Williams has been through so much, and he doesn’t just teach us about wrestling. He is not only a great wrestling coach but a great mentor in life, too.”

Now, Kobi’s name is on the Wall of Champions in the Nick William’s Wrestling Center, too, just beneath his brother’s, Gage Gomez, and just 11 places away from his father, Neno Gomez. That feat was not lost on Kobi who said the pressure is now off his shoulders.

“I got the pressure off of me,” Kobi said. “It feels good to live in a house of champions. I knew it was my turn and I had to win and it means the world to me. It’s something I will never forget.”

Bridges earns All-American status at Nationals (March 24)

For two former Altus wrestlers, there was no stage bigger than the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Cleveland, Ohio. For Keilan Torres, it was his second appearance on the nation’s biggest stage for collegiate wrestling.

For Wyoming’s Montorie Bridges, it was his first.

Bridges said he was prepared for the wrestling, but nothing could have prepared him for the atmosphere.

“It was a really good experience,” Bridges said. “It was a wild atmosphere and overall, it was hectic. I was prepared for the wrestling but not for the environment that came along with it.”

There were many distractions for Bridges, and he said one even came during one of his own matches, but the athlete did his best to stay focused.

He battled his way through his first two matches, defeating Purdue’s Ben Thornton by a 16-3 major decision and Vermont’s Dennis Gustafson by a 4-1 decision.

Terry to take over reins of Bulldog football (April 21)

Matt Terry, defensive coordinator of the Altus Bulldogs for the past two seasons, is set to take over the head coaching position for the Bulldogs, pending board approval at the May meeting of the Altus Board of Education.

Terry, who has spent the last four years of his career in Altus, has been coaching for 14 years. In Altus, he served as the special teams coordinator under head coach Reed before transitioning to the defensive coordinator coaching position under Vargas.

Terry has strong ties to Bulldog football. He was raised in Altus and he grew up on the grass at Hightower Memorial Stadium under then-Bulldog assistant coach, Mike Terry — his father. While in Bulldog Blue, Matt Terry — then the quarterback for the team — led Altus to the 2001 State Championship football game against the Carl Albert Titans on Owen Field in Norman.

Former Bulldog assistant to head wrestling program (April 28)

The hole left by the retirement of Williams will never be filled, but new head coach and former assistant to Williams, Brandon Benson, is prepared to do what he can to ensure the program continues along the same path of excellence that it has been on since Williams took over the program from coach Willie Homer in 2004.

As an athlete, Benson was a two-time state champion at Tuttle High School and a two-time All-American wrestler at Oklahoma City University. His career as an athlete helped pave the way for his coaching career which is now in its 10th year.

Benson comes to Altus from Duncan where he has spent the last four years grooming young athletes into potential wrestling stars. In that time, he coached seven state placers and two All-State wrestlers while also winning two district titles. Before that, he was the head coach of the Tahlequah High School wrestling program for two years prior to coming to Altus as Williams’ assistant in 2012.

Navajo 3 to continue careers with Lady Pioneers (May 5)

There was never any denying the talent level of the Navajo High School girls basketball team. The team, led by seniors Emmy Cobb, Tabitha Armstrong and Gracee Bates, finished 24-5 this past season, suffering two of those losses in the Area Championships to end their season.

All eyes were refocused on the team’s three seniors. Each had offers to continue playing basketball or softball at the collegiate level, but what remained a mystery was which college they would choose. In the end, the decision was made by all three to sign on to play basketball at Western Oklahoma State College.

The three standout senior athletes already have something going for them as Lady Pioneers. They have been teammates for years and so the familiarity with each other and the chemistry between the three is something that is already well-established. The transition from high school basketball to college basketball is not an easy one, but by signing locally, Cobb, Armstrong and Bates can either fall back on each other or their families as they navigate the life of a college student.

National swim group honors Wiginton for outstanding service (May 5)

When it comes to high school swimming in Oklahoma, there are few names as recognized as the long-tenured head coach of the Altus High School swimming teams.

The National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association Awards Committee took notice and recently, Linda Wiginton was selected to receive the 2019 NISCA Outstanding Service Award.

Wiginton’s career has spanned 37 years and has featured three state championship titles in boys swimming. All three of those titles have come since 2010, the first year the Bulldogs were not required to swim against much larger schools.

In 2009, the Bulldogs finished fifth, but with the new system in place just one year later, the team won it all. Since then, the Bulldogs have won it two additional times with back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016. The Bulldogs also finished runners-up in 2011 and 2014, placed third in 2012 and 2013, fifth in 2018 and seventh in 2017.

Johnson hurdles the competition en route to title (May 19)

The quest for a state championship is a long one filled with many bumps along the way. It takes dedication, sacrifice and a desire to succeed above all else. It is the willingness to dig down deep inside of oneself and find the will to continue, even when it feels as if there is nothing left to give.

Altus High School freshman LaKysia Johnson knows that. She followed that path and it led her straight into the arms of victory at the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association’s Class 5A Track & Field State Championships in Yukon.

Despite being the only freshman in a field of eight runners, Johnson didn’t buckle under the pressure. She was in an environment she wasn’t used to, and she was being watched by hundreds on track and fields’ biggest stage. Where others might fold, she flourished, becoming the only freshman in this year’s girls’ Class 5A state track and field competition to win a championship.

Beckner beats the odds, competes in triathlon (July 7)

Beckner couldn’t do much more than walk for 10 weeks. At that point in the process, her doctor released her to swim and ride a stationary bike. She said she was so anxious to work out that it didn’t matter that she still couldn’t run, just as long as she could finally work out.

At the 14-week mark, Beckner was finally released to run, and she said her excitement was hard to contain.

“I was so excited,” Beckner said, “that I went straight from the doctor’s office to Lake Hefner for a run, and let me tell you, it was difficult. My back never bothers me when I am running, but it is a continual struggle to run because I am nowhere close to the shape I was in before.”

Still, Beckner kept going, and eventually, she started to get back into shape. Her first real test came during last weekend’s American Spirit Triathlon, something Beckner said she is glad she was able to accomplish.

During the inaugural triathlon last July, Beckner finished first in the female division, finishing with a time of 1:32.58. This year, she finished fourth in the female division with a time of 1:36.33. Of course, for the competitor in Beckner, it wasn’t where she wanted to be when she crossed the finish line, but being able to swim 500 meters, bike 15 miles and run 5 kilometers within four months of suffering the type of injury she did, is no small feat.

Williams inducted into Hall of Fame (Oct. 20)

The Bulldog wrestling program — under Nick Williams’ leadership — produced 69 state qualifiers, 26 state placers, 20 state champions, 19 All-Staters and 11 All-Americans. Some of Altus’ biggest names on the mat have gone on to achieve success at the collegiate level. Keilan Torres became the first Altus product to make it to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in 2017. One year later, Montorie Bridges joined Torres in Cleveland, Ohio at the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. Bridges went on to earn All-American status after finishing eighth in the 133-pound weight division.

For his contributions to the sport, Williams was awarded the Gallagher Award — an annual presentation to an Oklahoma State University alumnus who personifies spirit and leadership — and he was invited to sit on the bench during the Bedlam dual on Feb. 11. Not long after, Williams was being honored yet again but this time it was as the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s Scholastic Coach of the Year.

But the biggest accomplishment of Williams’ over 20-year career came last Sunday when he was inducted into the Oklahoma chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Jacob Maley goes from unknown to champion (Dec. 26)

Maley, in just his second competitive fight, found himself matched up against challenger Sunny Dass for the 125-pound amateur title. Dass was 2-0 and looked to move to 3-0 against Maley, someone who still hadn’t had much experience in competitive fighting. But if Dass thought Maley would go down easily, it didn’t take long in the match for him to find out Maley had other plans.

Just under three minutes into the second round of the match, Maley got a hold of Dass’ back and locked in a rear naked choke. He increased pressure until Dass had no choice but to tap out or pass out.

The win and the title belonged to Maley in just his second fight. For Maley, it was an experience like no other, and he said it was a dream come true.

“It felt great,” Maley said. “I’ve imagined myself winning it since I was a little kid. It took a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get here. I’ve spent many hours in the gym. I think I could have been better prepared, but I always see myself evolving. That fight showed me holes in my game that I am working on fixing.”

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