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Area wrestlers prepare for state traditonals
Flowery Branch High’s Danny Bell, left, and Brandon Dyer grapple during the team’s Thursday afternoon practice. The two will be a part of the school’s squad that competes in the upcoming state traditionals tournament. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

2009 GHSA State Wrestling Traditionals

Date: Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 19-21

Time: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, 9 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m. Saturday

Location: Arena at Gwinnett Center, Duluth

Tickets: $7 Thursdays, $10 Friday and Saturday, $24 total tournament

The very best of Georgia’s wrestlers will come together one last time over the next three days.

Day one of the 2008-09 GHSA Traditional Wrestling Tournament, the final wrestling of the season, begins at 5:30 p.m. today at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth. It continues at 8 a.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday.

Wrestlers that finished in the top eight of their weight class during last weekend’s state sectionals qualify for the event, bringing hundreds of the state’s most elite to today’s events.

"It’s a do-or-die mentality," Flowery Branch coach Shane Lancaster said. "We’ve drilled as much as we can drill, now it’s time."

Lancaster believes that the state sectionals, which was utilized for the first time this year, weeded out the weaker wrestlers, making today’s traditionals the closest event of the year in terms of talent from wrestler to wrestler.

"Sectionals made state more intense," Lancaster said. "There are no byes. Everyone earned their way there."

The Falcons are one of 10 area teams participating in the state traditionals. They send six grapplers in weight classes ranging from 103-171, the most of any Hall County team.

"I’m impressed," Lancaster said. "We didn’t think we’d have this many qualify."

Among them is 119-pounder seed Danny Bell, who is a No. 1 seed in a weight class considered one of the deepest in the tournament.

Bell’s possible opponents include Lumpkin County’s Wesley Forrester, who is one of six Indians in the tournament. He could also run into Logan Herford, the lone West Hall qualifier.

"I’m just looking at one match at a time," Bell said. "All these guys made it through sectionals, so I can’t underestimate."

While Bell has another year to win state title should 2009 not be the year to do it, other wrestlers aren’t as a fortunate. One of which is Bell’s teammate, senior Ben Yu, who’s final matches as a Falcon begin today in the 152-pound class.

"A lot is on the line for me," Yu said. "But I just want to enjoy it and have fun."

Regardless of experience, Lancaster has stressed that his team needs to enter the tournament without the jitters of any state championship. With the number of competitors in a large arena, getting familiar with the setting is a high priority to him.

"I take them out to the floor and let them look around at the seats and the mats," Lancaster said. "It helps to ease the initial shock."

Along with Flowery Branch, Lumpkin County and West Hall, other area teams from Class AAA are White County, with five wrestlers, and North Hall, with one.

Class AA features a greater number of teams from the area. Many of them are from Jefferson, who has 13 participating this year. Buford sends six wrestlers, Banks County sends four and Dawson County and Riverside Military each have three.

Jefferson’s cross-town rival, Commerce, also sends a large cast of grapplers to the Class A tournament, 11 in all.

Habersham Central has seven wrestlers competing this weekend.

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