PERRY -- Bo Minor put the final touches to what had been a long and trying weekend for the Southland Academy wrestling team when he won the heavyweight title in the GISA state wrestling tournament Saturday night.
Minor pinned all four opponents during the two-day event and finished the season at 22-0 with 22 pins to win his first state title. He pinned his opponent with 34 seconds left in the championship match as Southland finished in eighth place in the state as a team. The Raiders, who qualified nine wrestlers for the state meet, had hoped to finish higher in the team standings, but had problems before anyone walked onto the mat.
"I lost two of my nine before we ever started wrestling,'' Southland coach Mike Smith said. "So we didn't do as well as I had expected.''
Smith lost 103-pounder Jake Hood, who also plays for the Southland basketball team. Hood opted to play hoops instead against rival Deerfield on Friday -- a game Southland lost in a rout, 84-31. Southland's 184-pounder Andrew Alexander, meanwhile, showed up at the state meet with a skin rash, and officials would not allow him to wrestle.
Southland's biggest disappointment came at 160, where Mike Smith's son, senior Ethan Smith, who had been chasing a state title since eighth grade, lost in the semifinals in close 7-5 match. Smith entered the third period leading, 3-2, but one dangerous move cost him the match.
"He was too high, and the other kid reversed him and got some back points,'' the coach said. "It was 7-3 (Ethan was down), but Ethan came back to make it 7-5. He shook it off and came back and pinned his last two opponents to finish third.''
Ethan finished the season with a 20-1 record at 160, and finished his career with a 148-16 record with 98 pins. He finished in the top four at state four times, including last season when he was eliminated in the semifinals after suffering a concussion during the match.
Southland's Ryan Singley finished third at 119 pounds, and Matthew Garland finished fifth at 145 pounds.
Deerfield-Windsor sent a very young team to the state meet, but got a big weekend from Mac Lanier, who finished fourth at 135 pounds.
"I tell you what," began DWS coach Scott Horton, "Mac may have won five or six matches all of last year so he's just come such a long way. He's the heart of our team and he really took the lead. I just so proud of all my guys."
STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS FOR DEERFIELD, SOUTHLAND SWIMMERS:
ATLANTA -- Deerfield-Windsor boys and girls coach Lorraine Withers said Saturday at the GISA state championships was the moment when swimming in Southwest Georgia had officially arrived.
"They just kept calling names of (Deerfield and Southland) kids all day (for final heats)," Withers said. "It was probably the greatest meet I've ever coached."
The sport, which has a low level participation by area schools in comparison to other parts of the state, took center stage for the Knights, Lady Knights and Raiders on Saturday as the DWS boys team garnered their highest finish in school history -- fourth overall of 20 teams after finishing seventh last season -- as did the girls, who sliced their previous finish of 12th in half by taking sixth.
Knights star swimmer Taylor Withers, The Herald's two-time reigning Player of the Year for boys swimming, also won two individual state titles, defending his crown in the 50 freestyle with a time of 21.9 seconds, while also adding the 100 free chanpionship to his long list on accomplishments with a time of 47.8 seconds.
Lorraine, Taylor's mother, was beside herself as a coach -- and a parent.
"Oh, I was so excited. He had a bad start in the 50 free, but he still won," she said. "I just can't even begin to explain how excited I was."
Local DWS rival Southland, meanwhile, also made a big splash at the meet with its boys team, besting the Knights by one spot and finishing third overall as a team -- its highest team finish in 15 years -- while its 200 freestyle relay team of Jay Buchanan, Eric Bruns, Joseph Cornwell and Aaron Pryor not only won the state championship with a time of 1:32.83, they beat the GISA state record by almost a full second. The old record was 1:33.80
"They exceeded my expectations," said Southland swimming coach Tim DeMott, whose relay team came in as the third seed, but blew past the field. "I felt like we would be in the hunt to win it because my guys hadn't swam their best at recent (qualifying) meets because they were tired. But with some rest, and determination, they went out and did it."
Buchanan also finished second to Withers in the 50 free, falling just short of the upset by a few tenths of a second.
"Boy, those two battled," DeMott said of Withers and Buchanan, who also took third in the 100 butterfly. "Just a few seconds difference there."
And what a difference a year made for DWS, which had more to cheer about Saturday than just Withers, who also finished fifth in the 100 back,.
Patrick Madden picked up several key points to lead the Knights to their fourth-place finish by placing fifth in the 100 breaststroke (1:11) and seventh in the 200 IM (2:27).
Also, the DWS boys 200 medley relay team -- Withers, Madden, Bo Sinyard and Daniel Cheshire -- set a new school record (1:54) when it took fourth, followed by a fourth-place finish from the same group in the 200 freestyle relay (140.08), which was also a new school record.
"Just so, so proud," the DWS coach said. "School records, highest finish ever. You couldn't ask for much more from this group and how far they've come."
The DWS girls, meanwhile, were paced by Caroline Hawkins, who finished seventh in the 200 free with a time of 2:17 and seventh in the 100 butterfly with a time of 1:10 -- another new school record. Teammate Camille Fox took eighth in the 200 free (2:21) and Rena Divine was eighth in the 100 free (1:02). The Lady Knights' 200 A-medley team of Divine, Hawkins, Lucy Kelley and Savannah Hughes took sixth (2:10.62) and the same team grabbed another sixth in the 200 freestyle relay (1:54.7).
Of course, the news only got better as the day went on for Deerfield -- for the present and the future.
That's because the DWS girls' JV team actually won the state championship thanks to wins in the 200 medley relay by the team of Maggie Duvall, Micaela Cuneo, Emily Peters and Haley Daughtry, and a second win by Duvall, Peters, Daughtry and Orea Ariyo in the 200 freestyle.
Simply put, Withers said, "The future is bright for swimming (in Southwest Georgia)."