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As a kid, Nick Paden set the goal of wrestling under the lights in the state tournament. He had grown up watching former LaRue County standouts like Todd Allen, Scott and Andrew Cooper, Jason Detre, Ozzy Parker and Darwin Perez getting that chance and wanted to experience it for himself.
Though the senior 120-pounder came up short in his quest to add his name to the list of LaRue County state champions, Paden was able to cross an achievement off his list.
Now he can mark off another: Being named the Area Wrestler of the Year on the annual News-Enterprise All-Area Wrestling Team.
"It means a lot. It shows me the reputation I have around the area, and I've always wanted to keep my name good out there," Paden said. "It's nice that the other coaches have said that I'm the best wrestler in the area."
Paden received two first-place votes and 17 points to edge out senior teammate Bernard Ray, who had three firsts and 16 points. Central Hardin senior Nick Waits was third with the other first-place vote and 11 points.
Voting was done on a 5-3-1 scale, and coaches were forbidden from voting for their own athletes.
Paden finished 42-6 this season and fell to unbeaten Campbell County senior Garth Yenter in the 120 final at the Kentucky Horse Park's Alltech Arena in February.
"It would have neat to win the last match of my career," Paden said. "But ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to wrestle under the lights and run out during the face off before finals. Even though I didn't get the state title, I still feel accomplished just making it to finals.
"I had a couple of losses throughout the year that I slipped up," he added. "But looking back, I wouldn't change anything. I was just one match short, and even then state runner-up isn't too bad."
Longtime LaRue County coach Gary Canter said the award caught both him and Paden a bit off-guard. Both figured Ray, who won the 182-pound state title, would win it.
Canter would have been happy with either outcome.
"I was a little surprised simply because he doesn't have a dynamic standout personality that doesn't always stand out on the mat," Canter said. "But it's good that people recognize that he is a high quality wrestler and he deserves this as much as anyone.
"Nick is a very steady wrestler," he added. "He does nothing flamboyant in any way, shape or form, but he is consistent. You knew whenever you put him on the mat that you weren't going to have worry about him making a dumb mistake. And he always wrestled within himself. He's low-key and he just goes out and gets the job done."
COACH OF THE YEAR. Central Hardin Coach Russ Pike has always admired what Canter has built at LaRue County. So when he was told he was sharing the Coach of the Year award with the man who started the Hawks' program, Pike was almost speechless.
Canter and Pike each finished with 19 points. Canter had three first-place votes and Pike received two, but they were more than happy to share the honor. Meade County's Bob Davis finished third with one first and nine points.
"I thought Gary would win that hands down, no questions asked, with the year him and his boys had," Pike said. "This catches me off-guard. It's not something I was expecting at all."
"Everybody around the state and the surrounding states know who Gary is," he added. "He's got one of the premier programs in the state and has for 15 years now. To share the award with him, especially when it comes from your peers, it means a lot. I think a lot of Coach Canter and how he runs his program."
Said Canter: "Russ is a good coach. People recognize him because of his personality. He's a good competitor. He's just as deserving of the award as I am or any of us are."
The Hawks entered this season with hopes of winning their first state championship. But those aspirations were dashed in Lexington as LaRue County finished fourth behind Campbell County, Union County and Louisville Trinity.
Canter said it was still a successful season even though the Hawks slipped up at State.
"We tried to do some thing different this year - change the formula up a bit," he said. "It seemed to be working, then we got thrown a few curveballs at the end and things kind of fell apart on us. We didn't have the year that we wanted to finish up with."
The Bruins finished 23rd at State. That was a much better finish than Pike predicted at the beginning of the year.
"We had a pretty good year," Pike said. "I was pleasantly surprised. We had a lot of tough kids last year, and we had some holes to fill. I thought everybody thought we were going to have a down year. But I was really pleased with how the kids came along and how the seniors stood up to the challenge.
"I think next year should be one of the best years we've had in a while because we return a lot," he added. "We're going to have some holes, but I think a lot of our younger guys got some valuable experience this year and whet their appetite a bit. They're going to be champing at the bit to go."
ALL-AREA TEAM. The Hawks dominated the voting as they had five of the seven first-team selections in junior Caleb Canter, Ray, Paden and seniors Drew Newberry and Shawn Hull. Joining them were Waits and Parrott.
Filling out the seven-member second team were John Hardin junior Wade Holtsclaw, Daugherty, Perez, Meade County freshman Chris Beeler, Fort Knox senior Steven Traylor, LaRue County junior B.J. Carman and Central Hardin senior Cody Floyd.