By placing fifth, Kasey Baynon became a high school first.
The Statesboro High wrestler became the first female to ever place in the Georgia High School Association state wrestling traditionals tournament.
“It’s just surreal at this point,” Baynon said. “It has been my dream to place in the state, and to have this medal, and know I will also be the last to accomplish it is amazing.”
In the state meet, the top six wrestlers in each division earn a medal. Last season, Baynon was eliminated one match before placing in state, which would have meant earning a medal.
Last year's shortcoming only served as another point of inspiration for this year's goal.
Baynon’s journey this year began when she advanced to the state traditionals after placing second in the 106-pound weight division in sectionals.
The state meet began Thursday and Baynon knew what she had ahead in order to reach her goal. First up was Jared Lester of Decatur, followed by Ethan Martin of Veterans.
“I knew I had to win my first two matches in order to medal,” Baynon said. “I won the first, which was kind of to be expected, then I lost my second match to someone I had beaten in sectionals.”
That placed Baynon in the consolation bracket, where she went up against Chris Shaw of New Hampstead, whom she had beaten pretty easily in sectionals.
“I may have underestimated him a bit,” Baynon said. “He came out strong, but I was able to come back and win. It was a tough match.
That ended day one and put her into the consolation quarterfinals against Hunter Rees of Cass high school. A win and she was guaranteed to medal — a loss would end her dreams.
“It was a mental game at that point,” Baynon said. “I’m not sure if I was expected to win that match or not as I hadn’t seen him before.”
Before the match, the public address announcer let everyone in the arena know the significance of what was about to happen on the mat.
“He said, ‘Statesboro’s Kasey Baynon is trying to make history, as a win will make her the first female to ever place in Georgia state wrestling history,’" said Statesboro coach Bo Viness. “It was very emotional. All eyes were on her match. I have never been in a wrestling atmosphere like that before.”
The match started and was close early on, then Viness became distracted toward the end of the second period.
“One of my assistant coaches started tapping me and was explaining how they put the scores Kasey was receiving on the other team’s scoreboard,” Viness said. “Everything was hectic and I told him ‘Forget the score, she’s about to pin this kid!’ and then she did, and the crowd went crazy.”
“Everything was just a blur after that,” Baynon said. I was overjoyed and started feeling sick to my stomach. But I was so happy, it was amazing.”
“They raised her arm and I felt a weight come off my chest,” Viness said. “Kasey ran over and jumped into my arms. It was a great moment.”
With the weight of placing now off her shoulders Baynon moved on to Saturday where the worst she could do was sixth in the state.
In the consolation semifinals she lost 3-2 to Cage Leddon of Locust Grove, who beat Baynon earlier this season.
“I feel like I really did well, and almost pulled it out.” Baynon said. “If I had won I would have had a chance at third or fourth, instead I was wrestling for fifth or sixth.”
She would end up winning the next match 6-4 against Trip Sauls of Villa Rica, securing fifth place — the best finish by a female in the history of Georgia high school wrestling.
And that record will never be erased. The 2017 season is also the last year females will wrestle their male counterparts as the GHSA will be sanctioning girls wrestling next year.
“I have mixed emotions about that ,” Baynon said. “I enjoyed wrestling against the boys so that competitive part will be done, but it will open the door for other girls to wrestle who may not have wanted to do that and should grow the sport.”
Over 250 girls wrestled in the state of Georgia this year. Georgia high school is discussing abbreviated weight classes with seven instead of the 14 currently in the boys' setup.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Viness said. “States like California have over 10,000 female wrestlers, with area and sectionals. Georgia isn’t nearly there, but this is a step in the right direction.”
Viness also feels Baynon’s mark on girls wrestling in the state of Georgia won’t end with her record-breaking performance.
“I walked around with Kasey and I heard little girls come up and tell her how cool she was, and coaches tell her how their daughters watch her videos online,” Viness said. “I think there is going to be a whole wave of female wrestlers in Georgia that are going to credit Kasey Baynon with getting them started in the sport.”