Columbia senior Chace Curtis won third place at state on Mar. 3 (COURTESY).

WINTER ALL-AREA: Curtis named LCR's Wrestler of the Year

Curtis takes bronze at state in 2018.

His path to success has always been unpaved. He isn't the biggest or the fastest.

But that didn't stop Chace Curtis from becoming one of Columbia's best wrestlers in program history. Small in stature, but the senior proved again this past season what it means to have a big heart on the mat. Curtis epitomized his illustrious career by bouncing back to claim third place (126) at state after losing the prior semifinal.

"I trained harder this year," said Curtis, who missed the final last season due to a back injury. "I feel like I was better, and more mentally prepared going into state."

It was quite an emotional finish – returning to the podium for the first time since winning a state title in 2016. Despite falling to nationally-ranked Chris Rivera in the semis, Curtis won his next couple consolation matches to take the bronze model.

His impressive 21-2 record and third place finish at state was enough to capture the Lake City Reporter's Wrestler of the Year award. After four years in the program, Curtis hangs up his singlet happily content – especially after his comeback finish.

"That was definitely a big accomplishment for him," Columbia head coach Pete Whittington said. "After coming up short last year due to injury, it was important for him to respond this year by making the podium. Without a doubt, he had one of the toughest weight classes at the state tournament. There were multiple state champions in his weight class, so to get on the podium it was exciting for all of us. It was a culmination of his high school career. Nobody wants to win a title their sophomore year and never come back and place. So that was really important to him."

Curtis steadily dominated the competition over the last few years. The standout was ahead of his time when he arrived to the program his freshman year. With the help of local wrestling club, Monsta (founded by his father, Tony), Curtis started to find his edge on the mat as early as the sixth grade. It was his early days with Monsta, he says, that helped him establish himself as one of the school's better wrestlers.

"It definitely helps," he said of the club which started in 2009. "Going to national tournaments and wrestling nationally-ranked kids, and kids in different states, you're not just wrestling the same kids from Florida."

It didn't take long for Curtis to make his mark at the high school level. He was only in his second year when he took home the school's first state title in 41 years. And he continued to be the team's captain – a beacon of leadership, on and off the mat.

"Chace without a doubt is the most mentally tough wrestler that I've been around," Whittington said. "Because he may not always be the strongest. He may not always be the fastest with the competition he goes against. But Chace doesn't believe that anyone can beat him. And I think the young guys are starting to see that, as long as you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything."

Curtis likely will bring that same confidence and passion to the next level. His wrestling career continues at Limestone College, a Division II program in South Carolina. While he already has big goals set, including keeping his college record in the positive, he won't stop being a fan of Columbia wrestling. He'll keep up with his alma mater from afar. He likes where things are headed under coach Whititington.

"Our freshmen this year we're really good, really dominant," Curtis said. "Obviously they got some work to do because they're only freshmen. But I feel like by the time they're seniors in high school, they'll be doing stuff at state… The program is definitely growing."

In the meantime, Curtis gets set to embark on a new journey when he arrives on campus this August. Nearly 500 miles away, but the Columbia star says he will still contribute to the Tigers whenever he can. He won't ever forget where he started.

"I'm definitely going to help when I can. Columbia is my home. That's where I've grown up and that's where they've raised me in wrestling. Hopefully I can come back one day and coach at Columbia."

 

ALL-AREA TEAM

 

Daniel Mann

Columbia, 132 class

Was a stabilizing force for the Tigers this season, posted a 51-7 record. He won district and regional titles and went on to place in the top 8 at state.

 

Ian McGuigan

Columbia, 120 class

Has one of the brightest futures for the Tigers. He finished with a 34-10 record and was a runner-up at districts to qualify for regionals.

 

Zion James 

Columbia, 182 class

Was one of the hardest workers on the team, going 30-10 during the season. He won a district title and was a runner-up at regionals to qualify for state.

 

Matt Ross 

Columbia, 138 class

Was one of the hardest workers on the team, going 30-10 during the season. He won a district title and was a runner-up at regionals to qualify for state.

 

David Thompson 

Columbia, 170 class

Will help form the core of next year’s roster. He posted a 40-19 record during the season and placed third at districts to qualify for regionals.

 

 

 

 

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