WATKINSVILLE — Coach Jason Powers and the Jackson County wrestling team wrapped up a solid weekend Saturday at the Region 8-AAA Area Duals with a second-place finish at Oconee High School.
With the finish, the Panthers secured a spot in the Class AAA State Duals next weekend in Macon.
The Panthers only loss of the tournament was to eventual champion Eastside (38-28) in the sixth round.
“It was our goal all year to make it to the state duals,” Powers said. “We knew coming in that Eastside was going to be a tough team, but we gave them a run and had a great showing. Overall it was a great tournament for us.”
The Panthers had little trouble with the other region squads, with their closest victories coming against fourth-place Morgan County (43-29) and third-place Oconee County (42-33), two matches they had to win in order to advance to the state tournament.
The Panthers dominated Region 8-AAA foes Hart County (53-18), Stephens County (61-13), Elbert County (65-13) and Franklin County (70-9).
Powers said that at this point of the season, the Panthers don’t expect to make any extreme changes in regards to their practice routine, or philosophy in preparation for the state duals.
“It’s just little things at this point,” Powers said. “It’s finding what we did wrong and fine-tuning those things. As a coaching staff we have to get ourselves prepared and find as much information as we can so we go into the state duals prepared.
“As far as the kids are concerned, they are wrestling great right now, and have to continue to perform next week like they did this week,” he added. “If they do that, we can come out with our heads held high.”
Leading the charge for the Panthers were Izzy Carrillo-Garcia, Ryan Howe and Jacob Hyder.
The trio went undefeated in their matches during the two-day event.
“We had some tough competition, Eastside mainly, but we had a strategy and had most of the weight classes filled up before we got here, so that was good,” Howe said. “Most of the season we didn’t have that. We just have to keep practicing and learn from the matches that we lost so we can be ready for the state duals.”
Howe, a senior, added that this will be his first trip back to the state duals since his freshman year.
“I haven’t been personally since my ninth-grade year,” Howe said. “We’re really looking forward to this. It was one of our goals and we reached it.”
Carrillo-Garcia, who was recently elevated back to the varsity squad, said the previous experience helped him and he was glad to contribute.
“It wasn’t really anything different when I came out this weekend,” Carrillo-Garcia said. “I just went out there and tried to wrestle my matches. I did notice some competition out there, so I’m going to go back and watch my tapes when I get home and that’s going to help me a lot.”
Hyder, who missed time recently due to illness, said he was excited to be able to win his matches and contribute to the Panthers qualifying for the state duals.
“I did pretty good, but I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without my teammates and coaches support,” Hyder said. “I think going into the state duals, that we need to keep working hard and definitely continue to work on our conditioning. I think that’s our biggest flaw right now, but I think we can do well this week.”