By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON – Twas the week before Christmas and South Effingham’s wrestling team faced its first adversity of the dual season.
The Mustangs lost two team matches at the two-day invitational at Yulee.
They haven’t lost since.
SEHS breezed through the Class 6A Dual Wrestling Prelims, defeating Paulding County 62-6 and Jackson County 46-15 last Saturday, to advance to the state Elite Eight at Gainesville High on Saturday.
“I think we stuck together and really started working hard after those two losses at Yulee,” Mustangs’ 190-pounder William Christmas said. “We were dealing with illnesses and starters out and we were down after those two losses, but we got back to grinding it out (in practice) in the wrestling room.”
The Area 2 champions (33-2) are now three wins away from a state title.
SEHS coach Christopher Bringer said team depth has been the key to success.
“What it comes down to is when we win, we win (often by pin) and when we lose, we lose by very little (decision). That’s what makes us a good team,” Bringer said.
Every week, it seems as if another Mustang wrestler steps up to win a big match. Bringer singled out Daniel Galindez, winning twice at 106-pounds. Christmas and Jacob Stellhorn turned in strong showings. Bringer’s son, Brandon “Moose” Bringer, defeated highly regarded Ramon Castillo 6-0 at 132.
Coach Bringer praised the effort of Stephen Tootle, who wrestled one of the top Jackson County wrestlers. Tootle lost a decision, but by not getting pinned, he saved the team three points.
“It was pretty surreal. I didn’t think we’d (beat Jackson) by that much,” coach Bringer said. “I’m going to fight for a one or a two seed (when seedings are determined early in the week).”
SEHS will have some good arguing points. The Mustangs have beaten highly ranked Brunswick, Greenbrier and Richmond Hill during the season. Jackson County was ranked third in Class 6A before its area tournament.
A year ago, SEHS finished second to Brunswick at area and was matched in a four-team grouping that included eventual state champion Buford.
The Mustangs’ area championship this season, their first since 2013, allowed them to host the prelims this season and a vocal crowd, their 15th man spurred the team on.
“Buford was a tough draw, but we learned from it,” Bringer said. “We have 14 good kids with several good backups. I have every intention of going (to Gainesville) and getting to the state finals. We have the ability to do that and we can win the state title if we match up well. We don’t have any weak links.
“We did have all these goals to start the season and the kids put in a lot of time”