Todd Stokes and his Piedmont wrestling team have a lot to be proud of.After decades of Panther success on the mat establishing themselves as one of the best programs in the state, Stokes has taken Piedmont to three straight appearances in the state finals (team/duals) – including back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2010-11 and 2011-12 – before winning it all for the first time in 25 seasons.But even after going a perfect 38-0 as a team and winning the 2A state title over Croatan, Stokes isn’t satisfied and isn’t taking anything for granted.“Last year was special, and we went on a great run – but it was last year,” Stokes said. “This year’s (Piedmont) team hasn’t accomplished anything yet. Right now we are just another team trying to make a name for ourselves (and) trying to live up to the championship standards we’ve established.”Stokes has been with the Piedmont wrestling program for most of the past 14 years, with two different stints as head coach, 1999-2001 and 2003 to present. He knows all about the tradition and what it means to grapplers, past and present, to wrestle for Piedmont High.“Wrestling at Piedmont has been a big deal for a long time now,” Stokes said. “A lot of the kids that are coming through now have family that have been a part of this tradition and even competed on the last state championship team in 1987. They all take pride in wearing the Piedmont uniform or just wearing a Piedmont wrestling T-shirt around, period.”Seniors Dylan Nelson and Parker Von Egidy are back to try and lead the Panthers (3-0 as of Nov. 28) back to the top. Both wrestlers won their respective individual state championships last year.Nelson, 18, went 38-0, and took the 160-pound 2A state title. Von Egidy only lost one match on the way to his second consecutive 2A state championship, this time at 170 pounds. Nelson will try to repeat in the 160-pound class, while Von Egidy has moved up to 182 pounds.But while seniors have had a lot of success, they firmly understand exactly what it means to wrestle at Piedmont.“It’s a privilege just to be a part of the Piedmont wrestling team, and we all know it,” Nelson said. “We (the seniors) feel like we have a big responsibility to try and help this team stay on top. But it won’t be easy.”“It’s our senior year and we definitely want to go out with a bang,” Von Egidy said. “But we’ve also got to help all the younger guys and make sure they know what Piedmont wrestling is all about.”Nelson and Von Egidy will need big contributions from their teammates, starting with their fellow senior class members Bryce Braswell (195 pounds), Dalton Graybill (170 pounds) and Steven Black (126, 132 pounds). Black already holds a special place in Piedmont lore; he wrestled in the state championship match last year, despite having a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).“Steven is already a big of a legend because of what he fought through last year,” Stokes said. “The guys on the team look at that kind of effort and sacrifice and know they have to be tough to be champions. There’s no way you can complain about the little bumps and bruises when guys are going out there and playing through (severe) pain like that.”The Panther’s seniors also will look to several freshmen to step in and step up as former Piedmont High coach, Jim Swayney, runs the highly successful Piedmont Middle School program. That team also won a state championship last year and produced most of the current Panther standouts, including Nelson and Von Egidy.This year, freshmen like Austin Bagley (112 pounds), Thomas Flitz (138 pounds), Austin Purser (120 pounds) and Ladale Talley (112 pounds) will look to carry on that tradition.“With Coach Swayney leading our middle school program, the guys come into Piedmont High ready to go,” Von Egidy said. “They are full speed ahead from day one.”
Friday, Nov. 30, 2012
Excellence in wrestling is a Piedmont tradition
Panthers poised to continue reputation of excellence
Piedmont's wrestlers have their eyes on another state champion. Coach Todd Stokes' team was the state's best last year. Stephen Black, left, played a key role in that championship run as he went on the mat with a torn knee ligament.