You never want to get caught between a rock and a hard place. There’s a cliche saying that backs this up.
For KHSAA Region 2 heavyweight wrestlers, one opponent has embodied this sentiment.
For the past four years, LaRue County’s Tucker Shelton has been a force in the 285-pound division. This week, the senior is getting ready for one more trip to the KHSAA State Wrestling Championships this Friday and Saturday at Alltech Arena in Lexington.
“It’s always an exciting time. You hope to place the best you can going in,” Shelton said. “The season’s winding down. Practice is just trying to polish off your technique right before State.”
Shelton came into LaRue’s high school program as a freshman after wrestling for its middle school level. Even though he was on the younger side, he began his high school career in the heavyweight class.
He has been hard to stop since. Over the last four years, Shelton has never lost in the 285 region finals.
Last Saturday, Shelton won by fall over Daviess County’s Say Moe to close his career region record at a perfect 4-for-4. With the win, Shelton improved to 45-1 on the season.
It was a special night for Shelton, who recognized holding the region title for four straight years isn’t easy, especially in the highest weight class.
“I’m really proud of it. There’s not too many kids that come in as a heavyweight in your freshman year and win because you’re typically wrestling older people. Heavyweights are normally older” Shelton said. “I’m proud of it, saying I could do it all four years from the time I was 15 to now.”
Despite his individual success, Shelton still maintains a team-first mentality. His only wish from Saturday was LaRue County would have also won the team title. The Hawks finished in second place behind Meade County.
Similarly, Shelton said his favorite of the four region titles came during his junior year when a team title was on the line. Taking on Tate Morris of Taylor County, Shelton held on in overtime to secure the Hawks the region.
“Coming down to my finals match, we were down just like two points,” Shelton said. “I had to win that match for us to win a team region title, so that was special.”
LaRue County coach Eric Burrell said Shelton’s growth in the sport from his sixth grade season in the middle school program to now has been an interesting journey. Since those early days, Burrell has watched Shelton excel in different aspects of the sport, but still be ready to learn and take advice on how to continue growing.
“He’s a very coachable kid and that makes the sport very fun for us,” Burrell said. “Having him be able to go out there, win the close matches, beat kids he’s not supposed to and just show heart, it’s been a very, very fun ride for Tucker and us as coaches.”
There’s still one more crown Shelton hasn’t checked off yet that he hopes can be reached this weekend. After four seasons and three previous trips to State, he hopes to finish his career as the state heavyweight champion.
After not placing his first two tries as a freshman and sophomore, Shelton came closest to this goal as a junior with a third-place finish.
Based on what he’s seen of this year’s 285 bracket, Shelton likes his odds.
“I like my draw a lot. I think it’s good for me to make a run at winning the title,” he said.
Burrell agreed Shelton’s bracket draw is favorable for him.
He added his continued development this season makes him a tough match-up for many of his opponents.
“The kids he will be wrestling, they’re gonna be good, tough heavyweights, but I don’t think they’re on the same level as him,” Burrell said. “He’s really come into his own this year, developed obviously physically but technically he’s a sound heavyweight. He’s a very smart, intelligent wrestler, very patient.”
Shelton’s goal this weekend is to return home and close out his wrestling career with a state title. No matter the final result, there have plenty of great memories and lessons for Shelton over his years in the sport.
“Wrestling’s different than anything else. You spend long Saturdays with your friends,” Shelton said. “The bonds you make on the wreslting team are different than football or anything else. It’s been fun.”