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Mia Bernacki leads local hopefuls as wrestling heads to state
Effingham’s Mia Bernacki 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.

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SPRINGFIELD — Mia Bernacki gets one more chance at high school wrestling’s ultimate goal – a state championship.

The Effingham County senior fell one point short in the finals last year. She’s slimmed down to compete in the girls’ 170-pound weight class but hasn’t cut down on her work ethic.

“I’ve been working hard so I’m excited to see what happens,” Bernacki said after a Jan. 27 workout.

She won’t have to wait long. The girls’ Area 1 traditional competition will be held Friday (Feb. 3) at Effingham County.

The Rebels will also host the boys’ Region 2-6A traditional competition Saturday.

Top four in each weight class in the area/region tournaments advance to the Sectional tournament – the girls Feb. 10 at Upson Lee; the boys Feb. 11 at Lanier.

The top six wrestlers from two Sectionals (12 overall) in each classification pin down spots in the state tournament in Macon, Feb. 16-18.

Our county has been well represented in wrestling in recent years. On Jan. 14, South Effingham won the Class 6A Dual (team) state championship.

And during the last nine years, county wrestlers have won seven individual state championships – ECHS’ Isiah Royal in 2014, 2015 and 2016, Zebrandon Gant in 2018, Zekeil Walls in 2019, SEHS’ Austin Blaske in 2020 and Jacob Galindez in 2022.

Six local wrestlers – Bernacki (second in girls’ 197), ECHS’ Mal Santiago (second at 106), SEHS’ Jacob Stellhorn (third at 106), ECHS’ Conner Nevin (fourth at 120), SEHS’ Enrique Santana (fifth at 152) and Brandon “Moose” Bringer (fifth at 132) – are back this year, eyeing higher finishes at state.

“The thing about Mia is she’s not assuming anything just because she finished second last year,” ECHS coach Nico Guggino said. “She keeps pushing in practice and in the weight room. She’s giving herself the best chance to win.”

Guggino said Bernacki is 14-1 against girls this season and 12-7 against boys. Her only loss to a girl came at a girls’ invitational in Greenbrier.

Guggino said wrestling stronger and more aggressive boys should help.

“When she makes a mistake against a guy it’s glaring, but then she’ll correct it,” Guggino said.

Bernacki suffered a rib injury during the season and missed about two weeks. She said the time off allowed her to refocus on technique and work on endurance.

Last season, Bernacki lost to Jackson County’s Lilly Chavis 6-5 in the 197-pound weight class championship match. Bernacki, however, weighed closer to 170 this year so it was easy to lose a few pounds and compete in a weight class where she should have an advantage in strength. 

“I feel like I’m better prepared this year. I’m ready,” Bernacki said.