Jackson County posed for a team photo with the area runner-up trophy but had hoped the trophy would be different this season.
The Panther wrestling team qualified for the state duals for the fifth-straight year but missed out on an area title with a 44-18 loss to Jefferson in the finals Friday (Jan. 10).
Jackson County coach Jason Powers said the second-place finish “stings a little bit” but at the same time, was proud of his squad, which has a 22-2 dual record.
“By no means am I disappointed in them,” he said. “We’ve just got to regroup, figure it out. We’ve punched our ticket to (the state tournament in) Macon. That’s step one. Now we go down there and see what we can accomplish.”
Jackson County dominated Morgan County 78-5 and Franklin County 69-7 in the first two rounds of the area duals to earn a matchup with rival Jefferson — winners of a record 18-straight dual state titles — in the finals.
The Panthers won three matches against the Dragons in the five heaviest weight classes, but managed just one bonus-point win in that run. Aiden Giroux won 7-2 at 182, Tyler Wester won 8-2 at 195 and Devonte Stephens recorded a pin fall at 220 (earning bonus points).
Jefferson then collected the bulk of its wins in the lower and middle weights, taking eight of the nine matches between the 106 and 160-pound divisions with four pins. Nathan McArter, with a pin at 138, was the lone Panther winner in that stretch.
"Everybody had a job to do," Powers said. "We had some jobs to do up top (in the lineup) and we fell a little bit short."
Powers added that Jefferson did a good job "of wrestling at positions."
The coach also said he did feel his lightweights wrestled well “as far as how I game planned that.”
“They did a good job, and then we had to gamble a little bit,” he said.
Powers pointed specifically to a close match between Jett Gonzales and Jefferson’s Mason Mingus at 126 which ended with Gonzales, trailing by two points, being pinned in the third period.
“Jett (Gonzales) is right there in a match with (Mason) Mingus,” he said. “We have to gamble. We have to try to go big, and he ends up getting caught and getting stuck. But that’s OK. We were in that situation, and I told him to trust me, and he trusted me.”
In the finals loss, Powers said he felt his team missed some calls “that could have caused some people to move.”
“And we just didn’t get those calls in certain situations and really swung some momentum in some matches,” he said. “We just weren’t lucky with that (Friday).”
Forced to wrestle Monroe Area following the loss to Jefferson in a “true” second-place match, the Panthers regrouped and dominated the Purple Hurricanes 61-15.
“(That’s) extremely tough,” Powers said of the quick turnaround. “I’m proud of our guys. We had to come back out and win that big match right there against Monroe Area, who’s not a bad team at all. They matched up well against us. It was their best kids against our best kids, and our best kids came out on top.”
Jackson County now will compete in the Class AAA state duals tournament in Macon Thursday through Saturday (Jan. 16-18).
For a preview of the state duals, see the Jan. 15 edition of The Jackson Herald.