By Gene Stanley/Sports Correspondent
Kyle Routon has stepped into a nice situation at Southside. The four-year assistant wrestling coach is, for the first time, the head coach.
He takes over a team that finished second in Class 5A last year and won the state title the year before.
“We’re battling some injury and sickness right now,” he said. “But when we get everybody back, we should be all right.”
Leading the way for the Panthers is Hayden Ryals at 145 pounds, a two-time state champion. Cade Kitchens (170 pounds) was a state runner-up last year, as was Adam Pierce (138 pounds).
“Cade has placed at state every year since he was a seventh-grader,” Routon said. “He has as much a chance of winning his weight class as anyone out there.”
Pierce is a little above his weight limit right now but is dropping weight to qualify.
Devin Hester at 132 pounds is ineligible for the first part of the season but will return before Christmas.
Zach Christopher (106 pounds) finished fourth last season, but beat the defending state champion two weeks ago.
Then there’s Austin Snyder in the heavyweight division.
“(Snyder) was a state qualifier two years ago, then took last year off,” Routon said. “He’s wrestling really well. I’m not sure what he did to get better during that year off, but whatever it was, it definitely worked.”
Routon feels there are several more on the team who may make a big contribution. They’re just unproven thus far.
“I really feel like we’re good enough to finish in the top three again,” Routon said. “When everyone is healthy, we’ve got a pretty good lineup, top to bottom.”