Oak Glen’s Bozek joins elite company of 3-time state champs, stands atop all-time career wins list
NEW MANCHESTER — Robert Bozek is in a small class and in a class by himself.
The Oak Glen senior won his third straight West Virginia state wrestling championship Saturday evening with a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over Austin Pumphrey of Frankfort.
“I knew I was completely capable of walking away with three straight titles,” he said. “I was confident in taking a shot and that’s what it came down to.”
It was the third match between the two. Bozek pinned Pumphrey a year ago in the 132-pound semifinals in 5:47.
“It was a close match last year until I pinned him,” said Bozek, who defeated the Frankfort junior in last week’s Region 1 championship at 138, 9-4.
Down 3-1 at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, Bozek earned a third-period takedown of Pumphrey to tie things up. Bozek let Pumphrey up for an escape and a 4-3 deficit, before taking him down in the final 10 seconds for the victory.
“I let him up with about 50 seconds to go because I thought he would have laid there for about 40 seconds and then done everything he could in the last 10 seconds to win,” Bozek said. “I would have done the same thing.
“I think a lot of people were surprised when I let him up — even my coaches.
“I talked to my coaches (head coach Patrick McGillian and assistant Jesse Mahan) after the match and they told me it was my match and I would have to live with my choice of letting him up for the rest of my life.
“It worked out perfectly.”
The victory puts him in a class with John Crain, Derrick Stickles, Joe Caughey and Rhett Northcraft as the only Golden Bears wrestlers with three state titles.
“It is definitely one of my biggest accomplishments, joining those four men, who accomplished so much in their careers, just like I have,” Bozek said. “From my sophomore year at OVACs, it all went uphill from there.”
Bozek, wrestling at 120 pounds, was out after five matches of the OVAC Tournament his sophomore year at WesBanco Arena.
So, winning a state title five weeks later in Huntington at 126 was far from being on anyone’s radar.
Bozek stopped Alex Hart of Independence, 8-3, a year ago at 132.
“It was a little nerve-racking this year — especially at states,” he admitted. “I had everything to lose and they had nothing. I felt I had a tough route with my second, third and fourth matches.”
He defeated Independence’s Nathan McClaugherty, 7-4, in the quarterfinals and Lewis County’s Hunter Mitchell, 4-1, in the semifinals.
“When I first saw the draw, I didn’t think it was that bad,” Bozek said. “But, then I realized I would have to wrestle my best all the time.”
His first-round pin in 45 seconds of Liberty Harrison’s Bryce Stearns gave Bozek his 149th career victory, putting him atop the all-time list.
“To go out there and break coach Mahan’s record was great,” said Bozek, who finished 152-34 for his career. “He was hugging me and congratulating me after the win and that was pretty nice.”
He finished his season 42-8.
“I had confidence the whole season, even after the losses,” Bozek said. “I knew there would be highs and lows during the season, I just had to make sure I peaked at the end of the season.
“All of this hasn’t really sunk in all the way. Leaving last night, seeing all the empty seats and knowing that was the last time I’ll wrestle at the Big Sandy Arena …
“Going back to my freshman year and hoping I would win a state title my senior year and walking away with three by the end of my senior year is pretty amazing.”
Bozek starts baseball practice today with his teammates and will wrestle next year at West Liberty for coach Mitch Smith.
“Coach Smith had a lot of nice things to say Friday and Saturday,” Bozek said. “But, I’m going to take a nice, long break from wrestling and eat a lot.”