CARBONDALE - Carbondale senior Prentice Thomas has gone from being a little guy overmatched on the mat to one of the best wrestlers in the region.
"I remember seeing Prentice in our junior program," said Carbondale coach Dennis Ragan. "Even though he was a little guy, he was very competitive and won the sectional his eighth grade year. I could tell he was athletic, and I liked everything about him.
"The only thing was he was wrestling 70 pounds in eighth grade and I wondering how long it would take him to get to 103. Freshman year, he was only weighing 88 and giving up 15 pounds. That was the reason he was only varsity part-time. But we got him to set lofty goals and he never got discouraged."
Thomas is a studious young man who lives and breaths wrestling. He started wrestling, ironically, because of his future teammate Alli Ragan, his coach's daughter.
"Alli brought me into wrestling sixth grade year," Thomas said. "I wasn't that good, but by eighth grade, I went to state. I lost first round."
As an underweight freshman he went 5-14, but since then has posted a 105-22 mark.
"I never thought I would get 100 wins, but working with my coaches, Alli, (teammate) Zane Richards and (former Terrier) Jared Ragan, I've improved so much over the years," Thomas said. "If I didn't have Jared, Alli and Zane to practice with, I don't know what I'd be doing right now. Freshman year I was 89 pounds, so I don't why I had basketball in my mind. After I didn't make tryouts, I went straight to wres-tling and committed to it."
After an undistinguished start, Thomas made a big jump his sophomore year, improving to 35-10. He won his first major tournament title at Mahomet-Seymour and followed with his first South Seven Conference and the regional titles.
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He then finished second at sectionals to earn a berth at the state tournament, where he was eliminated in the first round by a 13-3 major decision.
"It was an honor to be the only one to qualify for state from Carbondale," Thomas said. "It was me, coach Ragan and Jared. The ride up there was pretty fun. Coach Ragan is a funny guy. I was nervous, and the scariest thing was the huge crowd."
Last year, Thomas bumped up to 112 and went 35-9 and earned his second trip to the state tournament. In between, he finished second in conference, but bounced back to win his second straight regional championship.
After finishing third at sectionals to earn his second straight state berth, he won his first match by a 6-3 decision before losing to the eventual champion in the second round and the third place finisher in the wrestle-backs.
"I was pretty happy about what happened last year, because winning a match at state was pretty im-pressive," Thomas said. "This year was about learning from the mistakes I made. I learn more from losing than winning."
This year, Thomas is wrestling at 119 and should finally break past the 35-win mark after posting a 35-3 record going into the regionals at Mattoon this weekend.
"I'm pretty impressed how my season is going," Thomas said. "I just have to keep fighting to reach my goal of being state champ."