Whatever teams walk out of Panther Gym Saturday at Jackson County with trophies in hand will have bested a gauntlet of teams to do it.
Jackson County wrestling coach Jason Powers predicts that this could be the deepest field of talent to take the gym floor in the 17-year history of the Panther Invitational, which runs from Friday to Saturday.
“The tournament is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, tournament that we have ever hosted,” Powers said. “I expect that there will be a lot of very close matches and a lot of great wrestling throughout the tournament. The finals will definitely be something to see.”
The event is certainly one of the toughest early-season tournaments around, Powers said. The 26-team invitational will feature many state placers and state champions facing off against each other.
Among the teams attending are defending Class AAA traditional and duals state champion Gilmer County, Kennesaw Mountain (no. 4 in Class AAAAA last year), West Laurens (no. 3 in Class AAA last year), Dade County (no. 7 in Class AA last year), Locust Grove (no. 8 in Class AAA last year), Commerce (no. 4 in Class A last year), Athens Christian (no. 8 in Class A last year) and Jefferson — which has won 10 traditional state titles in a row and nine consecutive dual crowns.
“It is a great measuring stick to forecast what the rest of the season may hold for each wrestler and each team,” Powers said. “To place in this tournament is a great accomplishment.”
As for his own team, Powers looks for some wrestlers to at least place and hopefully one or two advance to the finals.
“It is my goal for the team to make it into the top six at the tournament this weekend,” he said. “If we can do this, it would be a greatly accomplishment for us as a team.”
But more than anything, Powers hopes the tough tournament helps ready his team for the most important matches toward the end of the season.
“This tournament will only help prepare them for the state tournament at the end of the season and that is our major goal,” he said. “Winning tournaments during the season is great, however none of it will be remembered if you don’t perform at the end of the year.”
Jackson County has already won one tournament this year — the Nov. 20 Patriot Classic — and is off to a 2-0 mark in duals action with home wins over Franklin County (49-21) and White County (40-32) last Tuesday.
Wrestlers going 2-0 last Tuesday were Jamie Stapler, Zach Moore, Anthony Ledford, Jacob Hogan, Ryan Shekey, Justin Brewer and Daivon Ledford.
“We wrestled very good (last) Tuesday night,” Powers said. Each team had a couple of wrestlers out of the line-up including us. However, we still managed to pull off two big wins.”
Powers added that Jackson County “had a lot of great matches with White County” in a pairing that wasn’t decided until the final match.
“Our young wrestlers did an excellent job stepping up and getting the job done,” Powers said. “We knew that to be successful this year, our young wrestlers would have to pull through, and that’s exactly what they did. I am very proud of their performance and hope that we only continue to get better throughout the year.”