The Jackson County Comprehensive High School wrestling team finished eighth overall Saturday at the Class AAA state individual meet in Macon. Senior Daivon Ledford dominated the field in his 170-lb. weight class. He captured an individual title by beating Eli Smallwood, 5-1. It was the opponents’ third meeting in recent weeks with Ledford beating the same Banks County High School wrestler in the area (8-0) and sectional (1-0) finals. Ledford became the fifth Panther in six years to stand atop the podium.
“It ended up being me and him again,” Ledford said. “I knew what he was going to do and he knew what I was going to do. It was a matter of who wanted it more… My sophomore year I was all the way on the bottom of the podium in sixth place looking up to everyone else, wishing I was there. Last year I was in fifth place. This year I was at the top and everyone was looking at me. That felt really good.”
Conner Andreasen and JT Wood also placed for the Panthers, earning points that helped the school claim its fifth, top 10 finish in the last seven years.
“Conner had a great finish to his senior season with a third place finish. He had his eyes set on the state finals but ran into the eventual state champion in the semifinals and lost,” coach Jason Powers said. “He then was able to wrestle his way back to a third place finish which is a great accomplishment. Conner set himself apart from the fourth, fifth and sixth place finishers. He won his three matches at the state tournament by a tech fall in his first match, pin in his consolation-semis match and then won his third place match by a score of 9-2. Conner has had a great high school career and to cap it off with a third place finish at the state tournament was awesome. I am very proud of what he accomplished not only this year but over the past three years as well.”
Wood, who was a sectional champion, placed sixth.
“JT had a very tough bracket at the state tournament this year with four previous state placers in his bracket. JT had to face the wrestler that put him out of the state tournament last year in the first round. JT came up short in that match but was able to battle back to win his next match to allow him to place. JT came up short in his conso-semis match and then suffered a very narrow 5-4 defeat in his 5th/6th place match to the same wrestler that he lost to in his first match. JT is only a junior though and has one more year at the state tournament. I expect that he will have a great offseason as well and will be ready to take on the state tournament next year.”
Zak Evans also competed, falling short in the round before placement by a close score (7-9).
“Zak had a great year this year. As a sophomore to make it to the state tournament is a great accomplishment, especially when taking into consideration how tough it was to make it to State this year. We will expect Zak to have a great offseason and be ready to take home a state medal next year.”
For the Panthers, the day belonged to Ledford, 18, who said his most difficult match of the meet came at the state final. Ledford, who entered the tournament with a 45-1 record, gave up less than 30 points in his 48 matches this year. His one loss was to the eventual Class AAAAAA state champion.
In Ledford’s nine area, sectional and state tournament matches, he allowed his opponents to only score one point. Smallwood, of Banks County, earned that point Saturday with five seconds left in the finals match.
“Daivon has had a season that will go down in the record books,” Powers said. “He has had one of the most dominant, possibly the most dominant, seasons in school history and he was able to top it off with a state title. Daivon is now the fifth wrestler in (JCCHS) history to be a three-time state placer.”
In analyzing the season-ending tournament, Powers said the seeds are planted for continued success in the future.
“Daivon kept the steak alive of having a state finalist in each of the last 6 seasons and the 5th state champion in the last 6 years and the 3rd state champion in a row,” Powers said. “The team’s top 10 finish was also the 5th top 10 finish in the last 7 years. These things are something that we are very proud of and we hope to build on in the future. It is our goal through the growth of our USA program and middle school programs to turn these top 10 finishes into top 3 finishes and eventually state championships.”