By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
Effingham County coach Nico Guggino understands the disappointment some of his wrestlers felt after leaving the Macon Centreplex last weekend.
Rebels seniors Mia Bernacki and Mal Santiago came tantalizingly close to Class 6A state championships after making great runs to their title matches only to finish second for a second straight year.
“I tell them to be disappointed in the results, not yourself,” Guggino said. “Mia and Mal and Conner Nevin, our seniors, did a lot for our program. They made an impact on the sport in our area. I’m going to miss them.”
Sixteen athletes from Effingham County and South Effingham advanced to the state tournament.
Only Mustang Ashton Anderson, in the 285-pound weight class, captured a state championship.
But the other 15 made strong runs and South took home a second-place trophy after placing behind Woodward Academy in team points, 124-103.
“I was happy with second,” SEHS coach Christopher Bringer said. “We struggled the first day. I think we had some kids get overwhelmed (with the stage).”
Individually, Bernacki (25-3) won three matches in the girls’ 170-pound weight class, including a victory over Johnson’s undefeated Litzy Soto in the semifinals, en route to her finals appearance.
“Mia wrestled very well and probably beat the best girls in the division before getting caught by a very good wrestler in the finals,” Guggino said.
Santiago (42-5), also a runnerup last season at 106, won two decisions to get to the finals and similarly made a fatal mistake in the finals.
South had five wrestlers place in the top 6 — Anderson, Enrique Santana (second at 157), Brandon “Moose” Bringer (third at 132), Ashton Anderson (fourth at 165) and DaMyon McFarlin (sixth at 175).
Anderson captured the school’s fourth individual state championship with a four-overtime 4-3 win over Woodward Academy’s Jaylin Tate in the 285-pound weight class.
At 157, Santana (41-6) scored a fall and decision wins in the quarterfinals and semis before dropping a majority decision in the finals.
Bringer (49-2) won three matches. The sophomore’s only losses this season were to state champions.
Tootle (43-13) won a quarterfinal match and a consolation semifinal and McFarlin (43-15) also won two matches.
Ashton’s brother Stephen Tootle (45-13) won two matches at 113 before his run ended in Round 3 of consolations. Emilio Santana (23-10) and Gannon White similarly experienced two wins and two losses at 120 and 144 respectively.
Jacob Stellhorn (39-13), who was third at 106 last season, had one win at 126.
Eli Wood (53-12) and William Christmas won once at 138 and 190 respectively.
Nicholas Sessions dropped two matches at 150.
For Effingham County, Elijah Johnson (35-19) was 2-2 at 132, winning a first-round match before losing in the quarterfinals, then winning a Round 2 consolation match before dropping a decision in a Round 3 consolation match.
Nevin (57-6) lost his two matches at 120. A year ago, he placed third.