High school wrestling season is a complex two-part puzzle, where coaches have to prioritize team structure and athlete training to fit that given portion of the year.
With more than half of the season in the books, it’s time to focus on the segment of the schedule where wrestlers go after individual honors and a chance at a state championship on Feb. 15 at the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth.
“It’s a different ballgame,” said Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow, who led his program to fifth place in Class AAAA at the state team duals last Saturday in Macon.
The next five weeks will be used to prepare each wrestler strictly based on weight class — mentally and physically — for the intense battle that awaits. During the traditional portion of the season, wrestlers are going to be judged solely on how they perform against other wrestlers in the their division, and not focused on earning points for the team, which is what the duals was designed to measure.
“We see the tempo really pick up this time of year,” Flowery Branch coach Shane Millwood said. “When they get into the practice facility every day, they’re really getting after it.”
Still, one major dual meet remains for Hall County programs with the two-day Hall County Championship scheduled for Jan. 24-25 at Riverside Military Academy. The timing of this meet is a bit amiss with most programs already getting wrestlers geared up for area championship meets, but there’s still a point of pride to see who’s the best within Hall’s borders.
Just one week after Hall County, wrestlers are looking to extend their season with the area championships. Local meets of interest include Area 8-AAAAA at C.W. Davis Middle School in Flowery Branch, Area 8-AAAA at Chestatee High and Area 4-AAA at Elbert County High, all on Jan. 31-Feb. 1.
The top four placers at Area advance to the state sectionals. From there, the top eight advance to the three-day state championship meet in Duluth.
With the focus on each individual wrestler from this point forward, the biggest priority is to be able to represent your team when it comes times to compete under the lights. Some teams have two, three and sometimes four wrestlers looking to earn the spot for their team in a given weight class.
Millwood knows that’s great for the competitive aspect.
“The kids that work the hardest are going to see the pay off,” he said.
At Chestatee, Whitlow would love to have as many wrestlers as possible be able to crack the bracket in the weight class and earn a trip to state. He also has a handful of weight classes with competition to see who earns the spot to wrestle in the meets.
For the War Eagles, junior Austin Donaldson (120 pounds) and senior Christian Zapatero (126) are both 100-match winners in their careers and looking to place at state for the first time.
The duals portion of the schedule reinforced how strong wrestling is in Northeast Georgia with state titles from Commerce in Class A, Jefferson in Class AA and Buford in Class AAA. The Dragons are looking to make it 14 straight state titles in the traditional portion of the schedule, while other programs with less team success still have a chance to have talented wrestlers break through and represent their school at state.