It was a closing day at the state tournament that the Jackson County wrestling program won’t soon forget. Chandler Saine and Kyle Graham both captured individual state titles on Saturday in Macon to spur the Panthers to a fifth-place finish in Class AAA with 75 points.
“I’m extremely proud,” coach Jason Powers said. “Both of those (wrestlers) started wrestling for me as freshmen … I’ve been able to watch the progression of both of them all the way through, and it was amazing just to watch those two wrestle over the last couple of weeks.”
This is the first time since 2002 that Jackson County has produced two individual champions in the same year.
Bremen, who won the state duals back in January, claimed the top spot in Class AAA with 132.5 points. Sonoraville (105 points), Morgan County (86), Lovett (80) and Jackson County rounded out the top five. The fifth-place finish is Jackson County’s best showing at state since taking third in 2008.
Saine defeated Bremen’s Koby Cook 4-1 to win the Class AAA 138-pound division, and Graham grabbed the Class AAA 195-pound title with a first-period pin against Kendrick’s Isaiah Sellers.
For Saine, his title marked the end of a title quest that saw him overcome a heart condition last year and a broken back in the spring. Saine, who placed third a year ago in the 132-pound class, closed his senior campaign at 58-1.
“He’s a fantastic kid,” Powers said. “Everything he’s accomplished is a testament to his character more than anything else in the world.”
Powers pointed out that state titles are normally won by the most driven wrestlers, rather than the most talented. But he said Saine was a combination of both.
“In this case, it was the best wrestler and the one that was the most driven,” he said.
Powers pointed to the obstacles Saine overcame, saying he’d never witnessed a wrestler endure the setbacks Saine faced during his four-year career, yet Saine remained undaunted in his goal to win a title.
“They were stepping stones,” he said. “They were never speed bumps. They were never road blocks … To watch him get his state championship was fantastic.”
Graham’s climb through the 195-pound ranks at state came after the senior didn’t even reach state sectionals last year. But Graham, who finished the year at 55-7, caught fire over the last month and rode that momentum to a state title.
“He’s just a fantastic kid,” Powers said. “It was great to see him come away with a state championship.”
Powers credits the 195-pounder’s mindset in pushing himself to the top. Rather than trying to produce a big move in a match, as he’d done in the past, Graham took to grinding out his matches over the last month.
“Kyle has wrestled exactly the way Kyle needs to wrestle — very confident, very within himself,” Powers said.
Powers pointed out that Graham only weighed in at 184 or 185 and still won the 195-pound title.
The coach added that should Graham wish to wrestle in college, he has significant upside.
“It will be amazing to see what he can still accomplish … he’s just now just starting to figure out what he can do,” Powers said.
Five of Jackson County’s six state-qualifying wrestlers placed at the meet. In addition to Saine and Graham’s titles, Ben Gilbreath finished third at 132, Anthony Winfield took fourth at 170 and Jacob Love placed sixth at 126. Davey Jennings, whose leadership Powers praised, competed at state but did not medal.
“The kids did a fantastic job this weekend of wrestling very, very confidently,” Powers said.
Powers said this senior-laden squad has been a special team, noting that as freshmen the group was not a star-studded one.
“You would never think that they could accomplish what they have accomplished, but it’s a testament to their hard work — their willingness to put in the work, their vision and their determination to do great things,” Powers said.