Athlete of the Week: Coles lifts Panthers to region title

Football has the Hail Mary pass, basketball has the buzzer-beater and baseball has the walk-off homer, but what about wrestling?

Whatever it’s called, Carolina Forest senior Michael Coles got to experience it for the first time last Friday night.

The result was a Region VI-AAAA championship for his team and the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week award for himself.

“It was an awesome experience,” said Coles, who is ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA at the 152-pound division. “In wrestling everybody’s score counts toward the team’s total, but for it to come down to the last match with everything on the line, I had never been in that position before.”

Rewind to Friday at The Black Hole, the Panthers’ packed home gym, where Carolina Forest trailed rival Conway 35-33 with one match remaining. With the region title on the line, Coles claimed a decision for a 36-35 win and the Panthers’ first region title since 2004.

“It was almost like the kid who hits the homer in the bottom of the ninth,” said Carolina Forest coach Will Bratcher. “It was up to Michael to get it done and I couldn’t have picked a better kid. He was the best dog in the fight.”

As a first-year coach, Bratcher credits Coles and his assistants for helping keep the Panthers focused on the goal at hand – the region championship. Coles led the team by example by working his way to the top of Class AAAA.

“Mike is the definition of heart and no one outworks him,” said Bratcher. “He’s someone you would want on your team. He represents character, hard work and he demands the best from the other kids. They love him and respect him.”

Coles kept the fire burning for the Panthers even during the coldest of days. “This is why we practiced during winter break without ever missing a day on the mat and in the weight room,” he recalled. “The whole time we talked about it being worth it to reach our goal of winning region.”

Coles had to make a quick transition to the wrestling mat from the gridiron after helping the Panthers to a 7-4 season as a two-way player at center and linebacker.

“In football he was small but you couldn’t keep him off the field,” said Bratcher, who also serves as an assistant for the football team. “It’s the same on wrestling mat. He gives everything he’s got for the team.”

Now Coles can turn his attention to help the Panthers advance past the Lower State, where their season ended last year, and reach his personal goal of winning the individual state title. But however it turns out, his senior season has already been a great one.

“It’s been a big year so far – winning the region and ranked No. 1 in the state,” Coles said. “But right now we just want to keep advancing and see if we can’t get that hardware on our finger.”

Photo by Rancier Photography

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