South Effingham's Mustangs Homegrown Stable Leads Wrestling Program To State Championship Glory

By Nathan Domintz/Special to Prep Sports Report | February 21, 2024

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The seeds were planted years ago in the minds of South Effingham High School wrestlers such as Eli Wood that the Mustangs could produce state champions.

Wood didn’t wrestle until his freshman season in 2020-21 and was on the junior varsity as a novice in the 132-pound division. He was still on the JV as a sophomore and contributed a little to the varsity team.

He was included on the trip to the state traditional wrestling tournament, not to compete but to help out, watch, listen and learn.

“Looking at the atmosphere, it really just inspired me and gave me a determination to work,” Wood recalled. “I saw all of those finals matches. It just looked so amazing to be in that situation, and it was.”

Wood, now a senior team captain, was in that situation last Saturday at the Macon Centreplex, achieving his goals in winning individual and team state titles as the Mustangs cruised to the GHSA Class 6A crown.

The wrestling program has made history at South Effingham High School by winning two state team titles. They captured back-to-back duals championships in 2023 and 2024, and after finishing second in the traditional meet last year, they claimed the crown last weekend.

“It was record-breaking,” said senior heavyweight (285-pound limit) Ashton Anderson, who became the first Mustang to win two individual state wrestling titles and at 59-5, set a mark for victories this season.

“I just love this team,” said Wood, who went 57-7 this season, including the 138-pound title match. “We came into this year with the mindset that we’re going to go and take that trophy. We were going to prove something that we didn’t prove last year.”

South Effingham’s fifth-year coach Christopher Bringer looked at who graduated and who was returning from the 2023 squad and set a goal to win both the duals and traditional state meets.

He counted four seniors lost but many strong rising seniors stepping up and talented freshmen and sophomores ready to play bigger roles.

“I think the No. 1 thing is we brought back a lot of kids who have experience from the previous year,” Bringer said. “Most of our seniors this year were there last year.

“We weren’t able to pull it off last year, I think, because a lot of our kids were kind of star struck by the moment. When you get on that floor in Macon, it can be intimidating for the first time to get out there and wrestle in front of a lot of people. It’s really, really packed in that arena. Nothing really prepares you for it.”

It was a more experienced and confident squad that advanced 12 wrestlers to the state tournament (same as in 2023) and earned nine top-five placements (to five last year).

While SEHS needed the fifth tiebreaker to edge Glynn Academy for the GHSA Class 6A boys team state duals championship in January, the Mustangs had fared so well in the first two days of the traditional meet that Saturday was almost anticlimactic with their large points advantage. SEHS finished with 176.5 points, Woodward Academy second at 122.

There were still individual titles to be determined in each weight division, and those did not lack in drama. Anderson and Wood, as seniors, understood they were wrestling for the last time for the Mustangs.

“It feels really good, but it was also a stressful experience just knowing that I can either end my career making history at the school, or I can end with still having a good season but ending it on a loss,” said Anderson, who has a scholarship to wrestle at Newberry (S.C.) College.

Facing Brunswick’s River Creel for about the 15th time in his career, Anderson estimated, they were tied at 1-1 through regulation.

Anderson told himself, “I need to focus up. I was tired. I’m a big dude, so I was already a little tired. I was like, just use this last bit of energy I’ve got in the right way.”

The match went into the third overtime period and Anderson won 4-1, topping Creel for the fifth time in six tries this season, he said.

“It was nice and dramatic,” Bringer said. “It was a great way to end a great, great year with him winning in overtime and us taking the traditional title. So it was really, really cool.”

Wood also had a familiar foe in Jefferson Cuttino of Glynn Academy, who had beaten him in their first three meetings this season. Bringer told Wood that he had the ability to defeat Cuttino, but he needed to be more confident, apply more pressure and match his opponent’s intensity.

They ended up wrestling over four consecutive tournaments, Bringer said, with Wood losing at regionals but topping Cuttino at sectionals and then at state by a 2-1 decision.

“He’s been the hardest-working, most-consistent person on the team for the last four years,” Bringer said of Wood. “He's such a good kid. He’s the perfect kid to coach, academically, leadership-wise, behavior-wise, wrestling-wise.”

South Effingham has been able to sustain success because of a commitment throughout the program and a culture that supports hard work and dedication all year to wrestling.

“Every now and then, there will be a couple of kids slacking off, but they’re young, they’re like, ‘I’ve got years to do this.’ But when you really think about it, it flies by,” Anderson said. “We let them know that, so everyone’s of the same mindset and program, that this is going to be a year-round thing just to make it to the next level. Keep it up. Keep our expectations higher and higher each year.”

Wood said he had one advantage because he competes only on the wrestling team, compared to others such as Anderson, who played football throughout high school and as a newcomer to the sport has joined the lacrosse team for his final semester.

“We have a bunch of people who play football and do other sports as well,” Wood said. “It’s easier for me because I only do this sport, so I get to pour my everything into it.”

Speaking for the team, he said: “We all love wrestling, so it’s easy for us to want to do it every day.”

Bringer said South Effingham, like others such as recent state champion Richmond Hill and reigning 10-time state champion Camden County, is a homegrown wrestling program in South Georgia.

Consistency is a key.

“We don’t really have a specific weight program, a weightlifting program,” Bringer said. “We don’t have a speed program. We just wrestle three to four days a week,

pretty much year-round, all the time. … Everyone in our room is basically built in that room.”

Looking ahead to next season, the Mustangs return three state finalists (Adam Hardeman, Emilio Santana and Moose Bringer) and six wrestlers with more than 40 wins, Bringer said. Among those back will be his sons, rising senior Moose Bringer and rising sophomore Bear Bringer.

“I’m very confident that we have a system in place that is going to produce quality teams,” the coach said. “I don’t know if I can make it to the state finals, but we’re still a top-five team for a long time to come just because we’re going to continue to work. All the kids want to be state finalists. I think we’ve got something good going here. It’s going to be exciting here.”


PHOTO CREDIT:  South Effingham High School Wrestling & Snaphound GHSA

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