Highland Park senior Aidan Conner is a three-time state champion after avenging a regional loss to Chidozie Nwankwo at the Class 5A state wrestling tournament. (File photo: Chris McGathey)
By Steven Thomson / Special Contributor
CYPRESS — Highland Park senior Aidan Conner moved up to the heavyweight class looking for a new challenge and a chance to scale a new mountain.
Conner did just that at Saturday’s UIL state wrestling meet, taking down defending champion Chidozie Nwankwo with a 4-3 decision in the Class 5A finals of the 285-pound weight class.
It was the third gold medal for Conner, who had dominated at 195 pounds over the last two seasons.
Teammate Spencer Buchholz took home a silver medal, falling to Chase Warden of Dripping Springs in the 145-pound final. Four other HP wrestlers competed in the meet, allowing the Scots to place third in the 5A team standings behind Canyon Randall and Dumas.
The showdown between Conner and Nwankwo did not disappoint, producing one of the wildest and most controversial matches of the two-day competition. Ranked first in the weight class by Wrestling Texas, Nwankwo was unbeaten in 53 matches since placing third as a freshman in 2017.
Conner came in ranked second and carrying a grudge after losing to Nwanko in last week’s Region III final — his only defeat in the past two seasons.
“He beat me last week 8-3,” Conner said. “This week, I don’t think there has been 10 seconds where I didn’t think about it. This whole week, it’s been on my mind.”
Conner and Nwanko battled into the last minute of the third period with the Richmond Foster junior leading 2-1. A penalty point and an escape awarded to Conner in the final seconds appeared to give him the win, but the point was disallowed on appeal.
Nwanko almost benefited from a similar call in the first overtime, only to see his apparent win also disappear through appeal. That sent the match into a sudden death final overtime, where Conner scored the point that gave him the state title.
“I’ve been in this situation before,” Conner said. “I knew it was going to be a close match. As soon as that clock hit zero, it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”
Buchholz also qualified for the state finals, only to run into a buzzsaw in Warden. The Dripping Springs junior closed out a 40-0 season by pinning Buchholz 1:48 into the first round.
Colby Hopkins fell to Marcus Hinojosa of El Paso Hanks in the semifinals at 182 pounds. Carter Puckett (132 pounds) and McClain Matter (220 pounds) lost in the quarterfinals, while Jeremy Hanes dropped his opening round match at 195 pounds.