CARY — Two years ago, Athens Drive’s wrestling team was a conference doormat that would have bussed over to Panther Creek, taken a beating on the mat and quietly departed.
But that was before second-year coach Sean Finkbeiner arrived on campus and began developing a team of young wrestlers such as sophomore Trey Cornish and freshman Kevin Devlin who have no experience with the Jaguars’ dismal past.
Cornish and Devlin recorded two key pins as Athens Drive (3-2) won 40-36 over Panther Creek (4-3) Wednesday at the Catamounts’ gym.
“Our coaches have worked us hard,” said Devlin. “We came close against Cary after they blew us out last year, and this week we beat Panther Creek.”
When the match started with the 120-pound weight class, Cornish got Athens Drive off to a quick start with a pin and 6-0 lead. Cornish relished the opportunity when the 120-pound class was the random pick as the opening match.
“You want to set the tone when you’re the first match,” Cornish said. “We knew Panther Creek would be a tough opponent and we needed pins because they’re stronger in the upper weights. We needed to get as many points as we could.”
Two more pins contributed from Grant Finkbeiner at 132 pounds and Noah Sabouni at 138 contributed to a 21-0 start for the Jaguars.
But then Panther Creek sophomore Miles Kent stopped the bleeding with a pin in 2:38 for a 21-6 score. In the next seven matches, Panther Creek scored on five pins, while Athens Drive took two victories by decisions.
The Panther Creek pins were from Matt Stober (160), Cameron Shaffer (170), Rony Nasrallah (195), Sean Kerr (220) and Cole Johnston (285). Johnston’s victory gave Panther Creek a 36-28 lead with two matches remaining at 106 and 113.
Trailing by eight points, Devlin felt he needed a pin at 106 and delivered in 3:25 to trim the deficit to 36-34.
But what he and his teammates didn’t know was Panther Creek was forced to forfeit the final match at 113. Athens Drive’s Omar Samara was awarded six decisive team points for the forfeit over Alfaaz Marani, who was disqualified for not having the proper mouth guard to protect his braces.
That set off an anti-climatic celebration among the Jaguars, but a celebration nonetheless for an ascending wrestling program.