HUNTINGTON - As Andrew Hale walked off the mat following Saturday's 12-0 loss to Clay County's Anthony Holton, there was no discouragement, only smiles.
Sure, the Cameron senior would have liked to win the whole ball of wax. But considering he hadn't even put on a singlet since his preschool years, he'll take sixth place.
''I can't argue with that,'' Hale said, moments after his 170-pound finale at Big Sandy Superstore Arena.
''I had no idea I'd even make it (to state). But to make it to the third day was great.''
Venturing to the state tournament was the farthest thing from Hale's mind when he approached Dragons coach Ron Trowbridge before the season to see if he could join the team.
Already a football player for Coach Jim Rogers, Hale was looking for something to do during the winter months. Plus, he said his mom wanted to see him wrestle.
Trowbridge welcomed Hale with open arms, even if it was a few years later than he would have liked.
''We'd actually been trying to get him to come out for a few years,'' a smiling Trowbridge said after the match. ''He actually came to us this season. He said even if he didn't start he wanted to do something during the winter.''
As it happened, Cameron had an opening at 170 pounds. Problem was, Hale weighed about 150.
''We had an opening that was a little heavier than he weighed,'' Trowbridge said. ''But he did a super job getting ready.''
It wasn't easy, though.
''Everyone I was wrestling with had years of experience,'' Hale said. ''And, I wrestled at 170, so there was a lot weight I needed to gain.
''It was real tough. I had to learn a lot. But I stuck with it and managed to make it (to state).''
Hale sustained most of his nine losses (he finished with 19 victories) has early in the season.
''He's come a long way,'' Trowbridge said. ''He just got better and better as the season went along.
''Some of the kids he lost to at the beginning of the year he beat at the end of the year.''
As the regular season wound down, Hale hit his stride. He finished fourth at the regional tournament at Tyler Consolidated.
Hale opened the state tournament Thursday by pinning Liberty Raleigh's Cody Caffro in 3:32. Friday, he defeated Holton 10-6 before falling to Roane County's Jacob Summers 18-3 in the semifinals.
Hale dropped his first consolation bout to Lincoln County's Tyler Jones 7-2. Then, it was time to face Holton again, this time for fifth place.
''He was 30-8 coming in,'' Trowbridge said of Holton. ''(Andrew) beat him in the second round, but I think (Andrew) was getting a little wore out.'''
Hale is planning on reporting to the Marines in August.
''We couldn't be more proud of him. He never quit, even against the bigger kids. We couldn't ask anymore from him.
''He was the only kid from our region to place (at 170). If you have a bunch of kids with the heart that he has, your team has a solid backbone.''