After losing the top wrestler in program history to graduation, an inexperienced 2019-20 Mary Persons wrestling team seeks to make its mark on MP athletics.
For the first time in the program’s five-year history the Bulldogs will be without the services of Brycen Young, who graduated in 2019 after becoming the program’s first-ever area champion and finishing a best-ever sixth place at state.
MP’s fourth-year head coach Barron Hamlin said he hopes that Young’s individual success will be the impetus for future team success at MP.
“Brysen did a lot for us in his four years, being our very first state placer in our very youthful program,” Hamlin said. “I hope that the guys see that, and they try to earn the same thing or hopefully they even earn a further spot, being a state champion. But hopefully it catches like wildfire.”
Hamlin said MP’s starting to see the positive effect of fielding a middle school wrestling program for the past several years with the early varsity success of a trio of sophomores, Charley Ryles (132 pounds), Elijah Shannon (145 pounds) and Kamron Ward (152 pounds), each of whom began wrestling as eighth graders on the Monroe County Middle School’s initial squad.
That nucleus of sophomores joins several key returners, including junior Tyler Norsworthy (126 pounds) and junior Peyton Ward (138 pounds), each of whom placed fourth in their respective weight classes at the Area 2-AAAA Traditionals meet in 2019. Other varsity returners include: sophomores J.T. Andrews (220 pounds), Evan Greene (138 pounds) and Brayden Lauber (145 pounds) and the squad’s lone senior, Travis Webb (195 pounds), who injured his knee last week in practice and is out for a while. One of MP’s most promising newcomers is junior Cole Padgett (160 pounds), who transferred from area powerhouse Perry.
Hamlin said of Padgett: “It was a pleasant surprise to have him come join our team, join our program.”
MP has also had an influx of female wrestlers over the past several seasons, including freshman Hana Echols on varsity this season. Hamlin said the GHSA will have a sanctioned girls-only tournament for the first time this season with a female state champion.
Hamlin said perennial powers West Laurens and Perry are again expected to rule Area 2-AAAA. But MP is off to a strong start in 2019-20, winning 7 of its first 15 matches despite having a number of weight classes unfilled. Hamlin said the Mat Dogs, which finished fifth at area in 2018-19, will have to get some injured wrestlers back like Webb and junior newcomer Seth Greenway (120 pounds) in order to maximize their potential this year and push for third-place in the region.
“We’ve forfeited some weight classes this year that hopefully within the next couple of years that we’re able to fill and we’re not put behind the eight ball,” Hamlin said. “You forfeit a weight class, and you’re already down so many points. And you forfeit three or four of them, that’s tough to come back from during a match.”
Hamlin said the success of the middle school program under second-year head coach Douglas Fletcher makes him confident about the future of MP wrestling.
“That’s really the biggest thing is our feeder program helps us build up for the future of the high school program,” Hamlin said. “And hopefully they stick with it, and it’s not a repeat each year of a ninth grader comes in and you only get four years with them. We’re going to try to get two at the middle school, and if they continue that’s a total of six years of experienced wrestlers. That’s the ultimate goal: to be successful, get the numbers out there, being successful at the middle school level will definitely translate into the high school. And I think we’re starting to see that. But as a whole group, I think it will be there in the next couple of years. That’s really what I’m hoping for.”
The Mat Dogs will next compete in the Perry Invitational starting at 5 p.m. on Friday and running through Saturday.