Madison County wrestling head coach Richie Houston tells his young wrestlers that “iron sharpens iron.”
And he knew a number of them would have their mettle tested at the 21-team Panther Invitational this past week in Jefferson, where many of the state’s top wrestlers grappled. The Raiders finished 15th in the tournament.
“There were some eyes as big as saucers,” Houston said of some his younger guys.
But the coach said it’s important to go against the best wrestlers around.
“If you wrestle at a certain level, that’s what your body gets used to,” said Houston. “It’s a baptism by fire where you want to compete against the best. We told the guys that they would know where they stood after this (the Panther Invitational).”
Jefferson, which has won 16-consecutive state titles, was actually beaten out by West Oak of South Carolina for the team title at the Panther Invitational. Of course, the Dragons were missing three key wrestlers who were also on the Jefferson football team. But Houston said the fact that Jefferson lost spoke to how difficult the tournament was.
“During the seeding meeting we saw that that there were eight state placers for every weight class,” said Houston. “The Panther is always tough. State and the Panther go hand in hand.”
While some of the younger Raiders had an introduction to top-notch competition, that certainly wasn’t the case for Madison County’s premier wrestler Cody Bond, who has faced not just the best in the area, but the some of the best in the nation in out-of-state tournaments in Iowa and Pennsylvania. Bond advanced to the tournament finals in the 132-lb. weight class where he went against Madison County resident Dawson Bates who wrestles for Jefferson.
Bates got the upper hand, winning 5-4 with a score in the final three seconds of the match.
“That was a tough one, but we’ll see him a few more times,” said Houston of Bond’s match against Bates.
Houston said the two are close friends.
“He got Cody into wrestling,” said Houston. “The two are great friends and hang out all the time.”
Bond, who is now 13-1 on the year, has won a state title to go along with two state runner-up finishes. Bates is a junior with a state title and a second-place finish at state on his resume.
“These are probably the two best kids in 4A wrestling and they’re from Madison County wrestling for different schools,” said the coach.
Bond wasn’t the only Raider to place in the tournament. Sophomore heavyweight Seth Goodrich took with place, going 3-2 and advancing to the semifinals. Houston said freshman Heath Sexton has also wrestled well this year at 120 lbs., tallying a 7-6 record so far.
Raiders will then host region foe Oconee County in a 5 p.m., Tuesday match, before traveling to Stephens County Saturday, Dec. 17, for the Arrowhead Invitational.