High school wrestling: Perseverance pays off in college opportunities for North Hall trio

May 26—A high-profile high school athlete graduating and competing at the highest level of college athletics is an important accomplishment.

However, a lesser-known athlete earning a chance to compete at a lower level in college can be just as noteworthy a feat and in some cases, it can be even more impressive.

North Hall's boys and girls wrestling programs have three such examples in a trio of individuals who signed to compete on the college level shortly before the 2022-23 school year came to an end earlier this week.

Lady Trojans 125-pound wrestler McKenzie England, the first state placer history of North Hall girls program, will continue her wrestling career at NCAA Division-II member Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas.

Meanwhile, boys wrestlers Triston Bassett and Mason Eddy also recently signed to complete in college at NAIA-member Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, and Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo., respectively.

All three of them earned their opportunities with some hard work in a very short period of time.

Neither of the two boys wrestlers qualified for the Class 4A state tournament in February, Trojans head coach Mason Patton praised the pair's work ethic, desire and refusal to give up on their dreams.

"Neither one of them made the state tournament," Patton said. "But they kept persisting, and we found some homes for them.

"Mason was like, 'I wasn't happy with my performance (during the high school season),' and he just kept practicing, kept (working), getting better. He ended up getting fourth at (the Georgia State Greco-Roman championship tournament). Triston, he was like, lifting and doing what he can and getting ready to go to school."

Meanwhile, England's story is even more unique considering that she had never wrestled before a chance meeting with Patton more than halfway through the 2022-23 campaign as he was looking for anyone interested in helping build the depth of the girls team.

"She had swam before, and she was done with swimming," Patton said. "We just asked her if she'd be interested. She came from a family in the (United States) Marines, and she was like, 'I'm in.'"

Indeed, with England's background in athletics and as a member of a military family, with her father being a Marine Corps veteran, one of her brothers being a retired Marine veteran and another brother on active duty in the Air Force, the idea of wrestling piqued her curiosity.

"I was sitting outside and we were talking about how my family is military," England recalled. "I thought about it, and I was looking into doing something in the military in the future. ... So, I wanted to get into a sport that would help develop me."

That said, what England has been able to do in six short months since taking up the sport was more than anything she could've imagined.

She posted a 10-4 record for the high school season and wound up tying for fifth in the 125-pound weight class in the girls all-classification state meet in Macon.

Then after the Lady Trojans' season ended, England entered the 2023 Georgia State Greco-Roman/Freestyle Championships earlier this month at North Hall, winning her weight class in Greco-Roman to qualify for the Cadet/Junior National tournament later this summer in Fargo, N.D., and placed third in Freestyle.

All of that has opened the door for her to wrestle in college for 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Texas Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee Randi Miller, who started the Texas Woman's University program in 2021.

"When I got into it, I thought maybe I'd be just a part of the team," said England, who plans to major in Criminal Justice and be an Air Force ROTC cadet at TWU. "I didn't know I'd go to state or even like it at all.

"I'm excited about just being able to have Coach Randi help me develop and (student assistant) Erin (Golston) help me. It's going to be great to be able to compete against girls that are ranked high ... and learn from someone who has that (kind of) experience."