When you think of winter sports season, you think of the excitement and the heart-pounding action of a basketball game. But even hoops may not compare to the excitement we saw on the wrestling mat this year.
I’d argue wrestling is the fastest-growing sport in the Lowco, and we have begun to develop and produce elite regional talent that can compete on the national level. It’s a sport that for many years was a niche activity and not one that received much attention, especially in the South. But that has recently changed, as more and more schools, athletes, and fans have embraced the benefits and the excitement that wrestling has to offer.
Not everyone is made to naturally excel at basketball, and wrestling is a fantastic winter alternative to improve athletes’ strength, agility, toughness, and stamina. It’s especially beneficial to multi-sport athletes, who gain key opportunities to cross-train while experiencing challenging competition in a sport that demands incredible discipline and mental toughness.
Look at all of the successful football schools throughout the Lowco and the state, and you’ll see a wrestling program there that pushes kids to gain that extra effort needed to win at the line of scrimmage and make those one-on-one tackles.
We’ve seen and heard so many stories of athletes getting hooked on wrestling and making it their go-to sport. The adrenaline rush of walking into a bout and the thrill of scoring a pin are unmatched in other sports, and so many Lowco boys and girls have turned to the excitement on the mat.
That’s right, girls can wrestle too, and we have one of the country’s best right in our backyard. Hilton Head High’s Zao Estrada cruised to the South Carolina girls state title for the second straight year and achieved an incredible second-place finish last summer at the 16U girls national championship. Now, she’s going for the overall state title in the individual ranks after claiming the Lower State crown on Saturday.
And she’s not the only one making waves in the female ranks, as Bluffton’s Siobhan Rogers also earned a state title in her weight class, and James Island’s Jesse Kemp, who will join Estrada at the coed state meet in Anderson this weekend after placing third at 106 pounds at the Class 4A Lower State meet.
They have blazed a trail for so many future Lowco girls to follow in the years to come, and we could see some more hardware on the way for both Zao and Jesse this week and for Siobhan down the road.
It’s crazy to think that the powerhouse program in the area is from a school that just opened six years ago. But Ashley Powell and the May River Sharks have quickly risen to dominate the Class 4A Lower State en route to a second consecutive state championship appearance.
There was little experience on the team when the first group began practicing in 2016, but the wrestlers and coaches quickly bought in and displayed the hard work and effort needed to climb the mountain. Six years later, they’re nearly at the summit, and they gave dynasty Eastside all they could handle last Saturday.
We all know that iron sharpens iron, and the Sharks wouldn’t be where they are now without the strong competition from Hilton Head High and other Lowco squads. The Seahawks came within one point of knocking off May River in an intense Lower State semifinal bout and outpaced the competition at the Lower State individual qualifier this weekend as Patrick Boulware continues to elevate his program back to the top of the wrestling landscape.
The Battery Creek Dolphins delivered an outstanding season in Class 3A with their first region title since 2016, and I expect both Bluffton and Beaufort High to raise their talent in the coming years. We can’t forget about the hard work of our SCISA teams, who produced six placers in the state meet, including three from John Paul II.
And if you think that wrestling has hit its peak here in the Lowco, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. With the growth of programs and clinics at Reverence Wrestling in Bluffton and at The Hangar on Hilton Head, we’re seeing more and more young boys and girls getting hooked on the sport. With more and more families moving to the Lowco from wrestling hotbeds such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, It’s just a matter of time until this area has the talent to challenge anyone in the Southeast.
What started as a specialized winter activity has become a way of life in the Lowco, and the possibilities are limitless for what we can accomplish on the mat.
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