For this year’s East Jackson wrestling team, youth could be a blessing in disguise.
After graduating heavyweight state champion Jeff Chandler last year, the 2013 Eagles’ roster is made up of mostly freshman and sophomore wrestlers. In fact, East Jackson has no senior wrestlers and only three juniors in the lineup for this season.
Still, first-year head coach Michael Pruitt doesn’t presume a lack of discipline or leadership on the young team. If anything, he expects his returning starters to step up and help to establish the fledgling program.
Junior Hugo Eguiarte (138 lb.) and sophomore Jacob Lindenmeyer (126 lb.) were voted as team captains at the end of last season and Pruitt expects both of them be exemplary members of the Eagle squad – on and off the mat.
“(Eguiarte and Lindenmeyer) are leaders in the wrestling room, during summer and preseason workouts and in the classroom,” said Pruitt. “Both are honor students with high GPAs and in advanced classes. Eguiarte is also a member of the Jackson County Student Leadership group.”
Juniors Michael Seagraves (170 lb.) and Dayton Watkins (195 lb.) will return their talents to the Eagle squad along with senior manager Harlie Howington, who Pruitt noted as “important as any wrestler to the program.”
Pruitt also expects good things out of up-and-coming wrestlers Paul White, Ryan White and Cody Parr.
Last year, the Eagles’ team dual record was just under .500. While Chandler emerged as a state champion, no other members of the EJCHS team won a tournament or qualified for sectionals and state.
Pruitt says his squad is highly motivated to improve upon last season and hopes to make strides daily. Pruitt noted that the Eagles’ goals for the season are to have a dual record above .500, to make the second round of the Area 4-AAA duals, to qualify at least three individuals for state, to finish in the top five at the traditional area tournament and to improve daily.
“Our team motto is ‘challenge accepted,’ meaning we accept the challenge to be great people, wrestlers and students,” said Pruitt. “We are willing to work and sweat to accomplish what lies before us. We want each competitor to become a better wrestler as the season progresses and to have individual success, but we also expect our wrestlers to be great students and great citizens.”
The Eagles have an optimistic attitude heading into the season, but they are sure to run into some road bumps – especially considering the level of competition they will be contending with. Area 4-AAA is home to last year’s AAA state champion (Banks County) and second state runner-up (Oconee County) in duals, as well as eight of the top-10 teams in AAA at the traditional state tournament.
“The area is just so tough,” added Pruitt. “It will be harder to qualify wrestlers for sectionals and state, but I believe that if you can finish in the top four from this area, you have potential to be a state placer.”
The Eagles are hoping that the work they put in during the offseason will provide them with a strong foundation to build upon this winter. East Jackson held workouts twice a week in the summer and started pre-season conditioning three weeks ago.
Pruitt noted that the wrestlers in attendance made significant strides, but he hopes to have a better turnout in future optional workouts.
“A wrestler can improve so much during offseason workouts, and preseason conditioning is vital to starting the season at practice and in matches with success,” Pruitt added.
The Eagles will compete in their first dual match of the season on Saturday at Banks County High School. On Tuesday, Nov. 19, East Jackson will hold its first annual ‘Navy vs. Silver’ match, which will essentially decide the starting lineups for the EJCHS and EJMS teams. Proceeds from the ‘Navy vs. Silver’ match will go towards the East Jackson wrestling program.
The EJCHS wrestling program is a work in progress, but its ceiling is high. Pruitt and his young team will likely view this season as a jumping off point to see just how high East Jackson can climb.