FHS Panthers sports teams move into 2023 with mixed results

FHS Junior Varsity freshman Addix Sutton defends at Swain County in a Jan. 5 game.

Dan Finnerty – Sports Writer

Head Coach Matt Kolodzik, who just logged his fifth season with Franklin High School (FHS), received Mountain 7 Conference Coach of the Year, NCSCA 3A Region 11 Coach of the Year, and was also an All-State Coach Nominee. 

“This team featured an experienced group with underclassmen and upperclassmen who all contributed toward an amazing season,” said Kolodzik. 

The Panthers achieved a 14-5-2 overall record (8-2-2 Mountain 7 Conference – First Place). Kolodzik thanked his “top notch” coaching staff that includes Adam Tallent (JV head/varsity assistant), Juan Morales (assistant coach), Jacob Kolodzik (assistant coach), Bryan Rodriguez (assistant coach), and Ken Lane (varsity assistant). 

Senior forward Noel Rivera and junior midfielder Ulises Padron-Perez garnered state recognition along with individual awards. Rivera was named Mountain 7 Conference Offensive Player of the Year, All Western North Carolina (WNC) 1st Team, NCSCA All Region, and NCSCA All State. 

“Rivera put up amazing numbers this year as a forward,” said Kolodzik.

 Rivera became the top regional nominee in coaches’ voting to represent the region at the state level where he became the first player in FHS history to become a member of the NCSCA All State Team. He also played in an All-State match as part of this honor.

Padron-Perez was also named Mountain 7 All Conference, All WNC 3rd Team, NCSCA 3A-Region 11 All Region Team, and an NCSCA All State Nominee receiving the sixth most votes in the region from area 3A Coaches as an All-State Nominee. Padron-Perez was third in Points (35), second in assists (13) and sixth in goals scored (11) in the Mountain 7 Conference. He was 13th in the entire 3A West Region in assists. 

“He was a key to the cog as a central midfielder who showed amazing talent and control of the game. His vision and passing accuracy were off the charts,” commented Kolodzik.

Basketball teams continue to excel

Junior Varsity Panthers warm up for recent basketball game.
FHS junior center Avery Moffitt sets up for a free throw in a recent basketball match. Moffitt made the All Tournament team along with Tori Ensley in the 28th Annual Battle of the States in Towns County, Ga., Dec. 28-30.

FHS varsity basketball teams participated in 28th Annual Battle of the States Tournament in Towns County, Ga., with the men going 1-2 and the women making it to championship game but falling to Rabun County for the third time this season.  Avery Moffitt, Tori Ensley and Cal Drake were named to the All-Tournament Team. 

January began for all squads on Jan 5 at Swain and again on the 6th at Smoky Mountain. The varsity Lady Panthers prevailed 64-35 and 53-47, respectively. The junior varsity (JV) girls won both their matches also, 58-25 and 45-17, to run their winning streak to three. On the men’s side, the JV team beat the Maroon Devils 72-34 and the Mustangs 56-39 to also run their unbeaten mark to three. For the varsity Panthers, they are unbeaten in four straight games, with 68-55 and 57-47 wins.

Senior Cal Drake (#32) continues to shine, leading the team in eight of 13 statistical categories, while scoring 274 points so far this season. On the ladies’ varsity side, Senior Tori Ensley is nearly as dominant as she leads in seven categories and has scored 221 points on the season. Ensley also celebrated her 1,000th career point in the game against Swain.

FHS basketball has an aggregate record of 37-11 (15-4) with all four squads currently above .500. FHS will play Swain again on Jan.12th; Andrews  on the13th; East Henderson on the 17th; and Tuscola on Jan. 20, all at home at the Panther Pit.

Wrestling program making strides

Abby Carpenter, wrestling in both the 126- and 132-pound weight categories,

FHS Wrestling team stands respectfully for the playing of the national anthem before a recent match.

continues to set the pace for the Panthers, finishing first in both the Lady Bearcat Invitational and Carolina Clash tournaments held recently. With an overall record of 17-1, she leads a team of four Lady Panthers, which also includes Stephanie Ortiz, Malaina Alberry, and Jasmin Valencia (15-3) having winning records. Carpenter/Valencia both finished first with Ortiz /Alberry finishing second in the Dec. 22 Devil Scramble at Swain County. On the men’s side, FHS wrestlers recently earned their first solo victory of the season against Cherokee, 30-12, in the Devil Dual tournament (also at Swain County). Combined with the Lady Panthers’s effort against Hayesville, FHS had a combined team win of 48-12 for the meet. 

“We continued to have fewer losses by pin and Wyatt Browning picked up a big victory for his season against Hendersonville (December 20 quad meet),” Head Coach Coley Tyler said. “While we improve, our boys have yet to put together a complete performance as a team. Our girls continue to dominate and do well wherever they go.” 

Carpenter has won Most Outstanding Wrestler awards the past two weekends and was named NCHSAA Player of the Week in week 17.

“The boys continue to work hard to get back on track for conference and regionals, at a minimum. Junior Nathan Diaz continues to have a phenomenal season with a record of 25-8, at this time. We are looking forward to seeing how he finishes the year,” said Tyler.

Indoor track sets records at Liberty University meet

Assistant Track Coach Matt Harlfinger recently provided an update on the FHS indoor track season following the Panthers’ second visit to Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va., on Jan. 7. Results of the meet include FHS picking up five new state qualifiers: Hope Smith in the 300 meter; Barrett Stork in the 1000 meter; Logan Russo in the 1600 meter and 3200m; and the boys 4×200 relay (Jason Mesa, Elijah Cochran, Tyler Williams, and Isaiah Roots). 

Additionally, five new indoor school records were set: Hope Smith in the 55 meter, 300 meter, and 500 meter; Laura Covarrubias in the Triple Jump, and Logan Russo in the 1600 meter. FHS currently has 24 athletes/relays ranked in the top eight for 3A. 

“We now have 31 total positions qualified. Last year we had 11 total through the whole season and we still have four meets to go,” said Harlfinger.