Panthers are fresh off dual team championship and probably even better this year
MONROE – Piedmont enters this season with a star-studded cast of wrestlers who helped the Panthers win their second dual team championship, finish fifth in the state at the 3A individual championship and produce four state qualifiers including Matt Price, who was the runner up in the 152-pound weight class.
In all the Panthers return eight wrestlers – that cover seven different weight classes – who won at least 23 matches a season ago, but this year they think they can be even better across the board.
That is especially true for Price, a football star who excels equally on the mat where he posted a 56-2 record before falling in the state championship final by one point to Union Pines’ Alex Faison.
“Losing in the state finals has always been in the back of my mind,” Price said before a recent practice. “The week after it had already started to motivate me, because I probably wrestled the worst match of my life. It was the wrong moment to do it, and he wrestled a good tournament, but to lose by just a point and to wrestle as bad as I did was disappointing. I had a really good tournament, too, up until the finals, but it was a bad match. I still get mad when I think about losing in the state finals, but it’s something that motivates me to get back there and have different results this year.”
Price isn’t alone.
Luis Oropesa went 46-8 during the regular season, but didn’t place well enough at the regional tournament to qualify himself for the state meet.
Like Price, Oropesa can’t stop thinking about how last year ended and is anxious to get his senior season off on the right foot despite being a key to the Panthers’ dual team comeback win.
“I didn’t even play football this year for the first time because I was so motivated to make states in wrestling,” said Oropesa, who wrestles as a heavyweight. “I was so disappointed at how I did at the end of the year, so I spent all offseason working on my game and I hope to come back way stronger this year. My bottom and neutral are a lot better and I have a lot more offense than I had, so I’m hoping for the best this year.”
Price said Oropesa has been impressive so far in practice and his hard work is already paying off.
“Luis is under the radar a
little because he didn’t qualify last year even though he had the talent to do so. Some people overlook him when they really shouldn’t based on his talent,” Price said.
And there are others looking for similar results.
Junior Colby Funderburk went 42-12 as a sophomore and qualified for states at 120 pounds. He finished fourth in the 113-pound bracket at states, but said the experience of such a high-profile match has already made him a better wrestler and has him eager to get back.
“It was a blast to be there,” Funderburk said. “Being there makes me want to push forward and get even further this year. We have the weight of everyone wanting to take our spot, but it also makes us want to push even harder to stay on top.”
Angelo Gilvary went 42-17 last year at 132 pounds and placed fourth at 126 during the state meet. Nathan Huntley won 43 matches last year and is another of the Panthers big guns.
Throw in freshman Tripp Collins, and this Piedmont team is as deep and talented as any Union County team.
“Our depth is great because we have a bunch of good kids we can wrestle against every day,” Price said. “It gives us a look at different styles and a lot more talented competition to go up against everyday. Those things definitely are an advantage for us.
“We’re probably the most physical team in the state and definitely so in the county. We have a bunch of guys on our team who are underrated and that helps us. Last year we wouldn’t have won a state championship if we didn’t come together as a team, so we are much more than a collection of good individual wrestlers.”