Permian boys gymnastics head coach Chris Soto was suddenly covered in chalk dust.
While sporting a black suit, dress shirt and tie, Soto had specs of white throughout his once-spotless wardrobe after the Panthers’ completed the optional high bar — their final event of the Region III Championships.
Those chalk spots came from giving pep talks, high fives and hugs to his players throughout the discipline as victory inched closer.
It was on that last of a dozen events throughout the weekend that Permian clinched a Region III title Saturday at the Permian Fieldhouse.
Locked in a neck-and-neck duel with San Angelo Central throughout the two days of competition, the Panthers found a way to lift the regional championship trophy despite not having what Soto thought was his team’s best performance.
Permian (329.400) bested San Angelo Central (325.00) and third-place Odessa High (322.400) to claim the title. All of them advanced to the state meet on April 28 and 29 again at the Permian Fieldhouse however, by scoring higher than the 295-point qualifying mark and placing in the top three.
A top-three finish was needed for both the Permian boys and girls as the automatic state berth for the hosting school was eliminated this past summer.
“The whole meet was an emotional roller coaster for me because I’ve never seen the team just struggle that hard on various events,” Soto said after the trophy presentation, proudly still wearing his chalk-dusted suit. “Watching them pull it together on the very last event was a game-changer for us. Those are the lessons we have to learn throughout this meet and thankfully it was this meet and not the state meet.”
Permian didn’t lead wire-to-wire to gain victory. It had to sway from first to second a few times throughout the competition with San Angelo Central.
There was even times Saturday when Soto started to prepare himself and his team for not lifting the trophy. Pommel horse and rings didn’t go the way the Panthers had hoped while the Bobcats delivered on both disciplines.
The difference however was high bar as Permian was able to collect itself and finish with possibly its strongest individual event of the day.
“I didn’t really expect it in the beginning but it feels great now that we’ve done it,” Permian junior Brandon Dominguez said about the victory. “Today was a big challenge for us and we just had to straighten our heads and we did it.”
Dominguez (110.300) finished in second in the boys’ all-around — more than two points behind Arizona State signee and currently Lubbock High senior Dalton Hopkins (112.700), who took home the Region III’s individual crown.
Odessa High’s Kaleb Redwine (108.100) finished third in the all-around with teammate Nicholas Drakus (106.700) also stepping on the podium in fifth.
Those scores helped the Bronchos put up the highest two-day total in the 34 years Tony Gonzalez has been the boys’ head coach.
“It feels fantastic,” Gonzalez said about breaking the record. “This team at this point is peaking and I know we can still go up three or four points.
“It gave us the confidence to know we can hang with the top teams in the district and region.”
A return trip to state was never truly in doubt for the Bronchos as they bested fourth-place Lubbock High (304.900) by almost 20 points.
And even though Odessa High lost a little ground to Permian and San Angelo Central today, it scored 10 to 15 points higher than anticipated coming into the meet. The Bronchos just have to maintain that composure during the three-week layoff.
“My team put in the work,” Redwine said. “We worked for that score. There’s a few more tenths in some of our stuff we can squeeze out. It can still improve. We’re not done.”
The Panthers and Bronchos now have an advantage of being able to work on the same equipment they used at regionals ahead of the biggest meet of the year.
Soto might not want to remove that chalk-filled suit if it brings his team good luck though.
>> NO MOVEMENT ON DAY TWO: The Permian and Odessa High girls teams finished exactly where they started during the optional half of the Region III Championships.
The Lady Panthers (219.250) came in higher than the 215-point qualifying score and finished in second place — less than eight points behind defending state runner-up and Region III Champion San Angelo Central (227.000).
The Lady Bronchos (202.850) ended in fourth place — finishing the team’s season. El Paso Eastwood (217.000) finished in third and claimed the last girls spot from Region III in the state meet.
“After the job they did after these two days, hopefully it boosts them up a little bit,” Permian girls head coach Brandi Simmons said. “Overall, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The Lady Cats claimed the top three spots in the girls’ all-around with Permian’s Joannaly Gonzalez (73.650) and Bridgett Pando (72.800) finishing the highest of the ECISD competitors in fifth and sixth respectively.
“We had a mindset to be going to state and getting into it is exciting,” Pando said. “These three weeks we really have to have our mindset on what we want to do.”
That entails the Lady Panthers making routines as clean as possible for when they’re the host team at the state meet for the first time since 2004.
Brittney Paredes was the highest Odessa High finisher in 14th place. Paredes will advance to the state meet as an individual qualifier.
“I was really surprised because I didn’t have the best day,” Paredes said after the meet.
Now the focus for the Lady Bronchos turns to Paredes and next season.
The Lady Bronchos made the most of their limitations this season — setting the foundation for what could be successful years to come.
“It’s a great end, but an even better start for next year,” Lady Bronchos’ head coach Lisa Torrain said. “I had kids do things this weekend that we can build upon for next year.”