The Panthers from Midlothian took to the mats on Friday and Saturday last week, Feb. 21-22, to vie for a top team prize in the University Interscholastic League state wrestling championships held at the Berry Center in Cypress (in the northwest Houston area).
The Panthers, under the leadership of head coach Kevin Reed and Robert Irwin, his assistant coach, did not disappoint against the top-seeded wrestlers from all over the state of Texas in the 5A division. In fact, the determined group from Midlothian not only represented their school very well, but also walked away with the state runner-up trophy in the two-day tournament. The Panthers were overtaken for the state title by Canyon Randall High School, the defending state champions, and lost by 69 points.
Winners from MHS leading the way were Felix Saunders –State Champion - 126 pounds; Jackson Carter - State Champion – 145 pounds; and Marshall Hodges – 285 pounds - State Runner-Up.
“Our kids were prepared and they executed,” Reed said. “We wrestled one of the most difficult schedules in 5A, so I knew our kids wouldn't flinch on the big stage. This was their 3rd trip to the Berry Center in a 12-month period. We were ready for the big stage. It was incredible to watch three of our top wrestlers carry the team to a state runner-up finish.”
Heavyweight Hodges had a 33-0 record going into the final match for the state title. However, he was bested by senior Chidozie Nwankwo from Richmond Foster High School. This tough wrestler is a two-time state champ. He won the title in his sophomore year, then took this year’s top prize again. (That means the Panthers’ Hodges will be seeded as the No. 1 top wrestler in the 5A rankings for next year.)
According to coach Reed, Kaleb Tompkins wasn't able to compete due to a knee injury.
“He is a huge part of our team, but him competing would not have made up for the 69 difference,” Reed said. “But it definitely would have widened the gap between us and Carrollton Creekview, the third-place finisher. Kaleb was undefeated on the season and ranked No. 1 in the state at 220 pounds. He is a consistent 25-30 point scorer for us.”
The MHS head wrestling coach had lots of high praise for his wrestlers.
“They have battled a lot of adversity this year, from kids in and out of the program, multiple line-up changes, injuries and many other off the mat issues,” Reed said. “They never stopped having a positive attitude, and continued to work and represent our program the right way. We only had four kids make it to the state tournament, and only three of those guys scored points. They put the team on their back and we made history again. We have never had three state finalists, a two-time state champ, or multiple state champions. Felix Saunders, Jackson Carter, and Marshall Hodges put on a show in day two of the tournament, and we went from 13th place to UIL 5A state runner ups.“
The Panther team will only lose three senior boys and two girls from this year’s winning squad.
“The core group will all be back next year,” Reed said. “Our team isn’t going anywhere. We have some talented 8th graders coming into our program, and our younger sophomores and freshman will make big strides over the summer. We look forward to even a better shot at the state title in 2021.”