Twelve months ago, this was not probable, for Lambert’s Matthew Sheetz to wonder what might have been after losing in a 3-1 decision to Habersham Central’s Andrew Burpee in the Class AAAAAA Traditional Wrestling Tournament finals at 106 pounds.
Sheetz became the Longhorns’ fourth state runner-up in the past four years. He was Lambert’s only state placer this season.
“He’s had a great season,” Lambert coach Kevin Contardi said. “I’m sure this will motivate him for awhile.
A year ago, Sheetz was motivated just to place at the state tournament this season. It was the natural next step for the Lambert sophomore.
By the end of Lambert’s Shane’s Rib Shack Hook’em Holiday Clash on Dec. 28, Sheetz knew he’d set the bar too low. He swept his competition, knocking out bigger and more experienced wrestlers who had placed at state before.
“I felt more confident in myself,” Sheetz said. “I felt like if I felt I could beat anybody, I could. That’s what pretty much kept me going through the rest of the year. I thought I could beat anybody, and I went into a match knowing I could win and I would win.”
Sheetz continued to reinforce his newfound confidence. He won an Area 6-AAAAAA individual championship. He won the Class AAAAAA East Sectional to earn the No. 1 seed in the state tournament. He pinned Meadowcreek’s Edy Padilla in 1:45, dominated East Coweta’s Dustin Nelson in a 14-0 decision and edged North Gwinnett’s Todd Small in a 6-4 decision to reach the finals against Burpee. He was 54-0 entering the match.
The decisive sequence came in the first period. Burpee timed a shot perfectly coming out of a whistle. Sheetz went down, and Burpee took an early 2-0 lead.
“If it had been a half a second sooner it would have been a false start,” Contardi said. “That kid timed it perfectly, caught us off guard and that’s how he got those points.”
Sheetz cut it to 2-1 in the second period with an escape, but Burpee’s strength and defensive approach prevented Sheetz from attacking with his typically aggressive style in the third period.
“He got [the takedown] pretty early and I wasn’t ready to go,” Sheetz said. “But he got it. I knew I had to bounce back, but I couldn’t. I knew I could get my escape second period. I just couldn’t get my takedown.”
Contardi added: “I don’t think that kid wanted to score a whole lot of points, was just hoping to win a close one like that. We typically try to wrestle a little bit open. But the kid was so strong he closed us off.”
When it was over, Sheetz went through the post-match protocol, shaking hands with Burpee and his coaches, shaking hands with Contardi and his assistant before leaving the center mat at Chattahoochee High School.
Sheetz walked past the stands. He went through a door to his left that led into a hallway. He made an immediate right turn through a pair of doors, and suddenly he was outside in stillness and silence.
A small group waited by the door that led outside. Sheetz returned a few minutes later, and talk quickly steered toward the match and its pivotal moment.
The disappointment was still fresh, but Sheetz’s confidence was already healing.
“It was just all the experience,” Sheetz said. “That was my goal from the beginning of the year. I was just happy to be [in the finals]. I mean, I’m still kind of mad about the loss, but it’s all good.
“I’ll have [Burpee] at some other tournament [next season] and I’ll beat him.”