The SMHS wrestling team placed fifth in the A-AA State Championships this past weekend in their third trip to the state dual championships in three years.
The Panthers beat Eagleville in the round of eight by a score of 41-33. They faced two-time runner-up, Pigeon Forge, in the semi-finals, losing a very close match 32-42. On the second day of competition, the Panthers faced Hixson in the consolation semifinals and lost another close match by a score of 43-30.
“I am very proud of what this team has accomplished this year. We were within one individual match of beating three of the top four teams in A-AA wrestling. It is bitter-sweet because this team has been through a lot of adversity and gone so much further than they thought they could, yet there is the sting of being so close to the state finals, but it was barely out of reach,” said Coach Brian Parker.
In the Eagleville match, the Panthers got pins from Anthony Giattino, Cody Caruthers, Landon Barlow, Justin Johnson, and Alex Norris. They got a technical fall by Dakota McAdoo, and a decision by Darren Rosser and Ismael Matias.
“Ismael really came through for us in this match. He was the last match and had to avoid being pinned for us to win. He fought off his back several times and eventually won the match in overtime to give us the victory,” added Parker.
In the semi-final match with Pigeon Forge, the Panthers got pins from Giattino and Barlow. Chase Eichner and Rosser received forfiets, while Caruthers and Cody McCarl won by major decisions. Johnson lost by one point on a controversial call at 195 pounds, while Alex Norris lost a close match at heavyweight.
“We knew we could win this match if a few of the close individual matches went our way. They pinned us in one place where, if we had to wrestle again, we would probably win it. It is hard to get all 14 starters having a good match at the same time, but we came so darn close and I am very proud of all of them," continued Parker.
In the consolation match versus Hixson, SMHS had pins from McAdoo, Rosser, Giattino, and Norris. They had decisions by Johnson and Caruthers. Eichner lost a very close match at 220 pounds.
“Hixson is always tough because they have a good middle school program. I went through that program almost 30 years ago. This was such a close. We had three weight classes that we could have or should have won, but got caught in a bad position or made a mental mistake. That is part of the sport and we have to mentally and physically ready for anything,” Parker said.
“I believe we were the only team at State that does not have middle schools or a middle school wrestling team. That says a lot about what our kids have been able to accomplish in a short period of time. Imagine what we could do if we had a middle school for SMHS that had its own team and coach, and the kids knew the basics of wrestling before they got to me. I get excited just thinking about it,” he said.
“Again, I salute these kids for coming through a tough season with their heads high, a region championship, a fifth-place finish in State, and a strong team bond. Now it is time for the individuals to shine at the individual region and state,” Parker concluded.
The Panthers head to the Region 3 Individual Region Tournament on Friday, where 10 of their varsity wrestlers will attempt to qualify the individual state championships. Each wrestler must place in the top four of the weight class to advance to the state.