West-Oak wrestling bests Gilbert in state finals battle of longtime coaching friends

Eleven years ago, Mitch Hudson and Derek Strobel were on the same sideline together as they coached Lexington High to a Class 4A wrestling championship.

On Saturday, they were on opposite sides of the mat as Hudson led the Gilbert program against Strobel’s West-Oak squad for the Class 3A championship. Strobel and West-Oak defeated Gilbert 52-24 to win a third straight state title.

Afterward, the long-time friends shared a moment in the post-match handshake line together.

“I know how great of a coach he is and I knew his team was going to be tough,” Strobel said. “I’m glad that they made it because if we were going to lose, that’s who I was going to lose to. I love him and he is such a great guy. He’s an inspiration and taught me so much. I’m just glad we were here together.”

Strobel was the head coach and Hudson his assistant for 17 years at Lexington. The Wildcats won the 2013 championship by defeating Rock Hill, 36-21.

The two parted ways but remained good friends when Hudson left Lexington to take over the Gilbert program seven years ago. Strobel left Lexington in May 2021 to become West-Oak’s head coach.

Saturday’s match at Dreher High School was the first time the two coaches faced each other.

“We love each other to death. We are like brothers,” Hudson said.

Strobel has won a state championship in each of his three years as West-Oak coach. Hudson has had success at Gilbert, making it to at least the lower state finals in six straight years and advancing to the state championship in four of those years, including three straight from 2019-21.

Gilbert still is looking for a state championship win, but making it to the finals was a big accomplishment after not having a full roster until the postseason. The Indians finished second in Region 5-3A and were ranked No. 18 in Class 3A, the lowest of any finals participant this weekend.

The Indians got hot in the playoffs and defeated Dreher, a team they lost to in the regular season, to make it to the championship.

“We came with a purpose and knew we had an uphill climb.” Hudson said. “... For us to be here with this group, it says a lot about our kids. We put up a fight where we could, but some spots we aren’t there yet.”

West-Oak jumped out quickly as Jared Cruz (205), Gunnar Mease (106), Peyton Durham (113) won the first four matches by pin to lead 24-0.

Gilbert won by forfeit at 126 pounds but West-Oak won the next three matches from AJ Delacruz (132), Sy Strobel (138) and Landon Allen (144).

Gilbert’s other two match wins were by pin from Shane Wise (150) and Jonathan Brentlinger (157). But West-Oak’s Marcus Thaxton (165) clinched the match with a win by tech fall, 18-3.

Gilbert wrestling poses with the runner-up trophy at the Class 3A wrestling championship on Feb. 10, 2024.
Gilbert wrestling poses with the runner-up trophy at the Class 3A wrestling championship on Feb. 10, 2024.