As Jackson County enters a new wrestling region, it also enters one without a clear-cut favorite in the duals ranks.
The Panthers host the Region 8-AAAAA duals tournament this Friday (Jan. 15, 4 p.m.). Coach Jason Powers points four to five teams — including his — “that are all around the same level.”
“I don’t think there’s one team that necessarily stands out,” Powers said.
While Walnut Grove may be a bit more well-rounded than the rest, according to Powers, the final standings could vary widely depending on who wrestles well.
“I feel like everybody is really, really competitive, so I feel like we can win region or place just off the podium and stay home (from state),” he said.
Other contenders, in addition to the Panthers, are Eastside, Loganville and a much-improved Greenbrier program. The top four teams will advance to state sectionals next weekend.
In a region with this much parity, matchups “are going to be the key,” according to Powers.
“We’ve got a couple of opportunities to make some bumps and some shifts, but not a whole lot of opportunities,” he said.
Still, Powers feels good about the tournament.
“I feel like we’ll compete extremely well,” he said.
But Powers reiterated the parity in the bracket, saying one swing match could put his team on a path to a region title or relegate it to a finish outside the top four.
“Its going to be a really tough tournament, a really tight tournament, and everybody is just very, very evenly matched right now,” Powers said.
Jackson County heads into the region dual tournament with nine first-year starters in a lineup of 14. That total includes several freshmen.
Powers said the returning varsity wrestlers from last year have stepped up to guide this young team.
“I’m so proud of our kids, especially our seniors … They’ve really stepped up and they’ve taken on huge leadership roles at matches and in the (wrestling) room,” Powers said.
Jackson County wrestled in a traditional tournament Saturday (Jan. 9) at Archer. Cooper Hoffman highlighted the day with a first-place finish in the 113-pound weight class.
“He’s wrestling extremely well right now,” Powers said.
Tyler Vaughn finished as runner-up at 285. Other placers were Jett Gonzales (third, 126), Jose Pacheco (third, 106) and Ramon Castillo (sixth, 120).
Jackson County only brought part of its team to the 12-team tournament.
Before the Archer tournament, Jackson County wrestled a dual match Friday (Jan. 8) with Lambert, losing 42-31. The match started with the 106-pound weight class, and the Panthers jumped out to a 25-0 lead before the Longhorns rallied.
“We just couldn’t quite hold on back through the back half,” Powers said.
Prior to that, Jackson County wrestled at North Oconee last Wednesday (Jan. 6), beating Rockale County and losing to North Oconee (36-35) at North Oconee.
“We wrestled extremely well in that match (against North Oconee) to be honest with you,” Powers said. “I didn’t feel like we wrestled really well against Rockdale. We just didn’t compete very well even though we won the match.”