Panthers ready for third year on the mat

Published 4:51 pm Monday, November 27, 2023

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Early into his wrestling program’s third season, Northside coach Daniel Garcia sees an encouraging development that he hopes turns into a trend.

The Panthers have 28 wrestlers on the roster, the biggest number in the three seasons, which in turn helps them cover all 14 weight classes, leading to more competitive matches.

“Back when we started the program, my goals to begin the third season were to have enough kids to send somebody out on the mat for every match, have enough equipment to host matches and to be competitive,” Garcia said.  “We’ve checked all those boxes, so I’m happy with how far we’ve come.”

Garcia has continued to beef up his regular season match schedule, so his team is constantly challenged every time out. There are 15 matches this winter, including Wednesday’s quad match at Washington HS that also features Goldsboro and Northeastern.

“Those kind of matches will hopefully pay off for us come state tournament time,” Garcia said. “This sport humbles you quickly and makes you keep working to improve every day in practice.”

Northside has qualified for the team state tournament both years and sent graduated senior Jayvion O’Neal, who is wrestling at Mt. Olive to the individual tournament last year.

“Having a state qualifier shows the other kids they can do it too,” Garcia said. “It helps motivate the returning guys to work harder so they can go where he’s been.”

Among the returnees Garcia is counting on are seniors Jacob Robert (120), Faithful Fulcher (132) Austin Frazier (165) and Gus Vansant (175) along with junior Rylan Paul in the 144 lb. class.

“Two or three of those guys, maybe more, could get to state,” Garcia said. “They have to keep climbing that hill every day, working to get better. They go hard during matches and their skills are getting better.”

Eight freshmen joined the team this year without any middle school wrestling experience. Garcia cites establishing a program for the younger kids is crucial for his program to survive.

“That’s the next challenge for us,” he said. “It would be great to introduce these kids to the sport in sixth or seventh grade instead of when they get to high school. It takes two years to develop a wrestler, so it would really help us to do that in the middle schools. Good coaches are difficult to find, so we are behind in that area. Hopefully, we can find someone to step up so our program continues to improve.”