Piedmont Panthers win Class 2A dual-team wrestling state title
by Aaron Garcia
Looking back, Piedmont High School wrestling coach Todd Stokes can actually trace the Panthers’ road to this year’s dual-team state title back to last year, when they rode a bus back to Unionville from Morehead City. For the second consecutive year, the Panthers had advanced to the Class 2A championship match. And for the second consecutive year, they left without a state title, twice succumbing to a tough Croatan High squad.
“After last year, driving six hours from Morehead City after losing a match you thought you should win, there weren’t a whole lot of motivational speeches said to our kids all (this) year,” said Stokes. “They wanted their shot at (Croatan) again, and they felt something was taken away from them last year because they didn’t perform to their level. I don’t think they ever wanted that to happen to them again.”
Stokes said that after looking at the eastern half of the state championship bracket this season, the Panthers penciled in Croatan as the favorites to emerge as a finalist.
“We knew if we got through (our half of the bracket), that would be the team we’d see,” Stokes explained.
And get through it they did. Piedmont entered the Class 2A state title match with a 37-0 record, which forced Croatan to travel to Union County on Feb. 11, giving the Panthers a home match.
“The gym was packed and the atmosphere was unbelievable.” Stokes said, adding that the match’s location wasn’t the only difference from last season.
“Last year (our wrestlers) had the deer-in-the-headlights look,” he said. “This year, they didn’t have that. They just looked like, ‘OK, we’ve been here before, we’re used to this.’ I think that was a big thing; that they were used to it.”
That experience certainly paid off, as the Panthers downed Croatan, 41-22, for the Class 2A state championship. The title came on the 25th anniversary of the program’s last state title, back in 1987.
“It was a really tough (opponent), and we wrestled the perfect match,” said Stokes. “All of our kids did exactly what we needed them to do.”
The Panthers won nine of the 14 individual matches at the meet.
Piedmont’s individual winners included 182-pounder Parker Von Egidy, who opened the match with a forfeit; 220-pounder Bryce Braswell, who beat Caleb Carpenter, 3-1; Kyle Eiss, who pinned Jonathan Rigsby in one minute, 36 seconds to clinch the 285-pound crown; 120-pounder Daylan Conner, who outscored Dustin McCaw, 6-4; 132-pounder Michael McLamb, who beat Josh Paderick, 16-0; 138-pounder Steven Bunch, who edged Sam Slater, 7-6; 145-pounder Lucas Smith, who pinned Brandon McCorkle in 3:35; Matt Maske, who downed fellow 160-pounder Robert Benson, 9-6; and 170-pounder Dylan Nelson, who pinned Andrew Colburn in 3:07.
The Panthers roster also included Wes Auret, Dustin Baucom, Stephen Black, Rhett Byrum, Dalton Graybill, Will Groves, Kirby Haigler, Patrick Helms, Kris Rookard, Tyler Scott, Vassar Strickland and Josh Whitley. Mara Corbett, Morgan Lowder and Jensine Riggins were team managers.
While the undefeated record was nice, it came as a bit of a bonus, said Stokes, who has made a habit of scheduling the toughest competition he can find during the regular season. This year was no different, as the Panthers vanquished teams such as Class 3A Charlotte Catholic, Class 4A Matthews Butler and private-school power Charlotte Latin. Generally, with a slate such as that, taking a few losses along the way is expected, said Stokes.
“What’s more important to me is this is a group, especially the seniors, that was the first group that won a (Rocky River 1A/2A) conference championship for us,” Stokes said. “We’ve been working so hard the last three years to get to the state finals. To get there two times and lose, to overcome that and actually win the state title, it’s just unbelievable.
“I’m just so happy for the kids and the assistant coaches who put in all the time and effort. It means more to me than a record. I wouldn’t have cared if we were 22-22 if we still made the finals and won. That’s the emphasis we put on our team.”