COACHES

Jackson County wrestling coaches Tyson Baxter (left) and Jason Powers (right) await a pin on Feb. 1 during the traditional Area 6-AAA tournament. 

The Jackson County wrestling team’s jump to Class AAAAA won’t be easy, and that’s just fine with coach Jason Powers.

The Panthers will join a classification that includes powerhouses Woodland-Cartersville and Woodward Academy, along with programs like Ola, Veterans, Harris County, Ware County and Cass.

“We’re always looking for looking for a new challenge — anything that makes our program better, anything that makes us go out there and compete hard,” Powers said. “Last year in triple-A was an absolute blast. We had a lot of great competition there, and in five-A, nothing is different.”

The 14th-year coach notes that Class AAAAA stands to be a different classification compared to last year’s Class AAAAA after the most reclassification cycle.

“The difficulty level definitely increases a little bit,” he said. “It’s not just because it’s five-A, it’s more along the lines of who’s in five-A right now. Five-A is a very different state tournament than it was last year.”

At the top is Woodland-Cartersville, which has won both the state dual and traditional state tournaments two years running in Class AAAAA. But Powers said that Woodward Academy — which won consecutive traditional and duals titles down in Class AAAA and features a couple of nationally-ranked wrestlers — joining the mix “is a big one." Cass will be “extremely tough” as well, according to Powers.

And Jackson County will compete in a new classification with a new-look lineup after graduating a large senior class last year.

“We had a lot of amazing kids last year who had been in our program for a long period of time,’ Powers said. “Now these kids that are coming up, they’ve been with us for a while as well, and they’re an extremely hard-working group. Our younger kids are learning how compete.”

And the hope is they'll compete at the state level. 

“It’s going to be a difficult state tournament, most definitely, but I think these kids are going to step into the lineup for us and do some very good things in duals and hopefully make an appearance at the state tournament,” Powers said. 

•Lineup: Jackson County lost six state qualifiers from last year’s lineup but will welcome back four — Cooper Hoffman, Ramon Castillo, Jacob Crumley and Tyler Vaughn. It also returns Jett Gonzales, a state qualifier from 2019. Powers said he believes this year’s crop of incoming freshmen “should do some really good things for us” while he expects several wrestlers waiting in the wings on the junior varsity to enter the starting lineup this year.

•Girls’ team: Jackson County’s girls’ program, now in its third year, will field a team of six wrestlers this year, led by Raven Cook, who placed third as a freshman last year. Lily Chavis and Jamie Nelms are returning state qualifiers. Senior Dawnasia Burk also returns after wrestling on the junior varsity last year.

•Tournaments: Jackson County’s Panther Invitational and Berkmar’s tournament are the Panthers’ only regular-season individual tournaments this season. Tournaments at Oglethorpe County and Clarke Central should offer the toughest regular-season tests for Jackson County in dual competition.

•Region outlook: Powers said Loganville and Walnut Grove are “definitely” two of the top teams in the new region, while Eastside is quality program with good athletes. Each of the other teams — Apalachee, Johnson-Gainesville, Clarke Central and Greenbrier — should have a handful of talented wrestlers in their lineups as well.

•Goals: Powers said the team’s goals have remained consistent. “We expect to win. We expect to do well,” he said. Advancing out of the region duals as a top two team into the "state quad" will be very important to the team’s postseason fortunes. Teams must win a state quad this year to advance to the state duals tournament.

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