For the first time in a decade, the Elmore County wrestling team came away from the state championships with a medal last season and now the Panthers are wanting to see even more success this year. However, that is easier said than done as they will have to replace seven starters including three state placers.
“First of all, what we did last year was tremendous,” ECHS coach Jared Jones said. “We have a great group but we have some inexperienced guys right now. We have the numbers to do it and we have some excitement around it so we just have to bring it together now.”
While the Panthers will have to ease some of their younger wrestlers in, some of the experienced wrestlers still have high expectations. Matt Brown, Stone Svencer and Christian Thornton all qualified for state last season and are hoping to make a return.
“It is a tough situation,” Jones said. “You have the remaining guys who got to state last year and they understand the expectations for themselves but you also have about 15 guys who have never even seen a wrestling match.”
Jones said it can be tough to find that balance in expectations but the leaders have helped the younger guys prepare. Leading the way is Brown, who finished sixth in Class 1A-5A at 285 last season. Brown was ranked third in the Alabama Wrestling Coaches’ preseason rankings.
“It really shows the kind of year he had last year and he had a good enough finish to where the coaches from around the state voted on him,” Jones said. “The fact he is being recognized is a tremendous honor. There are 60 teams 1A to 5A and he’s listed as one of the top returning guys.”
Brown finished with a 32-15 record last season at 285 but Jones said he expects Brown to move down to 220 for his junior season. While it will be a different challenge for Brown, Jones expects the move to help the team as it tries to shift wrestlers around to find the best starting lineup.
Taylor Atkinson will likely take over the heavyweight spot after struggling last season and losing his starting job to Brown. However, Jones said it will be good to have more experience at that level and he still expects big things from Atkinson.
Svencer will likely move up to 126 or 132 after going 29-12 at 120 as a sophomore. Thornton is expected to move into the 120 starting spot after making it to state at 106 last season.
“We expect both of them to be back at the state tournament,” Jones said.
John Clement and Solon Lee also made state last season but were eliminated after two matches. Both wrestlers are expected to stay in the same weight class at 170 and 182, respectively.
One of the biggest holes left by last year’s senior class is at 195 where four-time state qualifier Garrett Moseley competed. Newcomer Nathan Jones is expected to be the starter there and Jones said he still has confidence in Jones despite having big shoes to fill.
“That was never going to be easy for us but Nathan is a starter on the football team so we know he’s an athlete,” coach Jones said.
Jones has several wrestlers competing for the starting job at 106 and he said the Panthers will likely have a tournament within the team to determine the top spot. Carson Thomas, who won the JV Barry Mask Tournament two years ago but is coming off an injury last year, is one of the frontrunners along with Cory Bullard, Kirkland Clark and Jordan Cobb.
Ethan Geer is another who suffered an injury last season but he is back as the team’s starter at 160. Mason Carter moved between JV and varsity last season and is expected to be back to start at 145 or 152.