Mar. 18—David Panone looked at the 2020-21 season as one of redemption.
After winning an individual state title as a freshman in 2019, the Lassiter wrestler missed out on a title as a sophomore. He lost one match — during the state tournament — and finished third.
Panone used that memory to help focus on getting back on top this season.
"Last year, I had a good season," Panone said, "but I had one match that didn't go the way I wanted it to, and I was broken. I used that as fuel for this season."
That fuel was more than enough as Panone beat Buford's Nick Cambria 3-0 to win the 132-pound title at the Class AAAAAA tournament in Macon.
Panone (29-0) finished the season undefeated was named the Cobb County Wrestler of the Year by the Cobb County Wrestling Association.
"It feels like a great accomplishment," he said. "I didn't start the season with eyes on wrestler of the year. My goal was to make the team as good as possible."
Panone saw that happen, too. Lassiter won the Cobb County championship for the first time in 31 years, and the Trojans finished second in the state traditional championship.
The success started during an offseason that had more questions that answers. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, he had to find his own way to train, away from campus and his coaches.
"At first, it was a lot of runs and workouts," Panone said.
Once he got back on the mat, Panone began to focus in on where to get better.
"It was the little details," he said. "I worked on my top work. It's a strength, but I ended up getting pinned (last season) when I started on top. I did a lot of conditioning, too."
When Panone got back in school, his weight had reached 142 pounds, but it began to naturally fall off as the season began. He got down to 134, but he wrestled most of the year at 138.
It was that point Panone decided to cut two more pounds and get down to 132.
"I felt stronger there," he said.
It was during the Cobb County tournament that Lassiter coach Matt Brickley was convinced Panone was going to be in position to win another state title.
"He wasn't feeling well," Brickley said. "He had a tough opponent from Walton, but (Panone) won because he was mentally tough and he gutted through it. Maybe a younger version of him doesn't win that day."
Panone agreed that the county tournament was a turning point in the season.
"I knew it was going to be a brawl," he said. "It made me step up my game."
Now with two state titles in three seasons, Panone said there is only one thing left to do — make it three out of four. He will be looking to become the first three-time state champions in Lassiter history, eclipsing Chris Williams (1986-87), Brian McNitt (2002-03), Cody Runnels (2003-04) and graduating teammate R.J. Weston (2019, 2021).
To do it, Panone said he is going to start by wrestling in national competitions to see elite levels of competition. In addition, he said he is going to change his diet and workout regimen.
Panone plans on adding muscle through additional weight-lifting and said he will likely wrestle at 138 or 145 pounds as a senior.