The SMHS wrestling team traveled to Sevier County over the weekend to participate in the Region 3AAA wrestling Tournament.
Wrestlers had to place in the top four of the region to qualify for the big show, the TSSAA State Tournament. The Panthers had their best showing since Stone was built by qualifying six out of 12 wrestlers for the state.
Place winners and qualifiers are Cody McCarl (106), Ismael Matias( 126), Connor Heavilon (145), Justin Johnson (195), Dakota Karge (220) and Chase Eichner (285).
Heavilon, Johnson, and Karge each finished second in the region, McCarl and Eichner finished third, and Matias placed fourth.These six wrestlers will represent Stone Memorial in the state tournament on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Franklin.
McCarl lost in the semis to the No. 5 state-ranked student from Heritage before getting a pin and a major decision to place third in the region. This will be his fourth trip to the state tournament.
“Cody is very tough, but gets caught off-guard on his feet sometimes. We are working on that in practice. The top three at 106 in our region have a chance to place in State and we are confident Cody can do it. He will be ready,” said Coach Brian Parker.
Matias is a sophomore making his first trip to the state after getting a big win to qualify.The Seymour wrestler had pinned him earlier in the season.
“Ismael has improved greatly over last season, more than doubling his wins. He has huge potential in the sport including more trips to the state if he sticks with it,” added Parker.
Heavilon got a pin and a decision on his way to the championship finals where he lost a heart-breaker in overtime.
“Connor has had a tough season in a tough weight class, however he came on strong here at the end of the season when it counts. With a little work on shot defense, he will perform well at State. I am proud of the way he has turned his season around," added Parker.
Johnson is a sophomore who made it to the championship finals by winning two decisions. One of those decisions was against the No.2 state-ranked kid from Heritage. He lost the finals match to the No. 3 state-ranked grappler from Maryville.This will be his second of many trips to the state.
“This was by far the toughest weight class in the region. Justin made a name for himself today with the win over Heritage. He always believes he can win and usually finds a way to do it. We are going to work on shots and shot defense and prepare him to place in the state this week,” added Parker.
Karge is a junior at 220 that came on fire this season. He recorded a pin and a decision to get a shot at the region gold, but met the No. 2 state-ranked player from Heritage who is undefeated. Karge finshed with the silver medal.
“Dakota gets better every week and gives Coach Hoffman all he wants. He is very strong and is getting better at his technique. I think he will perform very well this week at the state,” said Parker.
Eichner got his first trip to the state with a pin and a decision and then went on to win his third place match in overtime. His only lost was to the eventual champion from William Blount by one–point.
“Chase went from being an okay wrestler with little confidence last year to an outstanding wrestler who expects to win this year. I have been really impressed by his improvements. With a little work on getting out from the bottom position, Chase will be a state contender,” said Parker.
The Panthers has six other participants in the region tournament including Anthony Alegria (120), Marco Hernandez (132), Jacob Flannery (138), Joel Hernandez (152), Blake Hicks (160) and Juan Loza (182). Alegria, Flannery, Joel and Juan were all one match from qualifying for state.
“There were some heart-breaking matches for several of these guys. It is tough to miss out on State by one or two points. We are tough on these guys and sometimes we forget that most of them only have one or two seasons of experience at this point. With their performances this season, I can definitely tell you that I am already excited about next season with these guys on our squad,” said Parker.
The Lady Panthers that qualified for state a few weeks ago were Achaia McDonough and Laura Napier and will also be joining the boys for the trip to Franklin this weekend. Wrestling for the boys begins Thursday at 3 p.m., while the girls will begin Friday at 11 a.m.