Jackson County hopes a successful sectional tournament is a harbinger of bigger things to come for the state tournament.
The Panthers qualified 12 of 13 wrestlers from Friday and Saturday’s (Feb. 7-8) sectional at Pike County on to state competition this week (Feb. 13-15) at the Macon Coliseum.
“It was a phenomenal performance, another great showing,” Jackson County coach Jason Powers said. “We advanced everybody out of the round of 16 and put everybody in the quarterfinals. So, any time you can do that, you’re setting yourself up really, really nicely.”
Nine of Jackson County’s 12 qualifiers placed in the top three, including three sectional winners. Kaden Andreasen (160), Tyler Wester (195) and Devonte Stephens (225) all won their weight classes, while Ramon Castillo (113), Nathan McArter (138) and Aiden Giroux (182) placed as runners-up. Cooper Hoffman (106), Jacob Crumley (152) and Tyler Vaughn (285) each placed third.
Rounding out the list of qualifiers were Dalton Hunsinger (fifth, 120), Mario Boliver (sixth, 145) and Garrett Bennett (sixth, 170).
The 12 qualifiers are believed to be the most in program history, though Hunsinger will not make the trip to state after sustaining a broken ankle in the final 30 seconds of his fifth-place match.
“I think the most important thing are the number of first, second and third (place finishes) that we came out with,” Powers said.
The coach praised his team’s performance in the placement rounds of sectionals.
“We continued to wrestle well,” Powers said. “We had several kids avenge losses, which is always great to see at this point in the year — that we’re improving and continuing to get better.”
Powers noted that Hoffman, in the 106-pound class, avenged losses to two wrestlers during the sectional tournament.
As for the field of teams at state, Sonoraville, the defending Class AAA state champions, pushed 12 wrestlers through to the state tournament, including two first-place finishers at sectionals. North Hall, last year’s runners-up, advanced 13 to the state tournament, seven of which finished first at sectionals. Jefferson, last year’s third-place team, qualified nine to state, including four sectional winners.
Powers believes this can be a big tournament for the Panthers with the group of 11 they’re sending to Macon.
“I think we can place a ton of kids and hopefully put a bunch in the finals and a bunch into the semis,” he said.
The coach said his team has the potential to produce multiple individual champions this week and hopes for his team to make a push for a top-three team finish in Class AAA. But he also said he didn’t want to limit his team with any predictions.
“Who knows? This team has continued to climb,” Powers said. “It’s done great things. I’m definitely not going to put a cap on them, nor what they can do.”
For Powers, this has been a memorable year, and said the year coming to the close this week is “bittersweet.”
“It has been an extremely special season,” Powers said. “Every week has been magical this year as far as being able to coach these kids … to be on the journey with them for four years. This has been a special group of kids.”
GIRLS QUALIFY SIX TO STATE
In just its second year of existence, Jackson County’s girls’ team advanced six of its nine wrestlers at sectionals to the state tournament with Raven Cook (second, 132), Montgomery Garland (first, 142), Mia Phillips (second, 162), Bre Lumley (first, 172), Jamie Helms (first, 197) and Lily Chavis (second, 225) all qualifying at sectionals.
Tara Moose (112) will make the trip to state as an alternate.
“I am very excited that six of nine competitors qualified for the second year of state competition for girls wrestling,” coach Melissa Krause said. “This is evidence that this sport is growing and I hope it encourages other young ladies to give it a try because this sport can teach them so much about who they are and what they are capable of,”
Krause said multiple Panthers could wrestle for state championships.
“I do expect to see Lumley in the finals, and I believe that Cook and Garland have a good shot at the finals as well,” she said. “I think each of the girls could place at state, and that would be very exciting, especially for the freshmen … There will be some tough competition this weekend, but I think these young ladies are ready for battle.”