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Battle is on for wrestling state championships
Grapplers striving for individual bragging rights
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State championships

When: Today-Saturday

Where: Gwinnett Arena, Duluth

Cost: $7 Thursday, $10 per day Friday and Saturday; $24 tournament pass

Today: Round of 16, 5:30 p.m.; quarterfinals, 11 a.m. Friday; semifinals, 6:30 p.m. Friday; finals, 4 p.m. Saturday.

Traditional state championships
Arena at Gwinnett Center, Duluth
Local qualifiers

Banks County
Mason Patton (112), Jordan Waters (119), Justin Fincannon (135), Wes Faulkner (140), Hayden Dilbeck (152), Jeremy Greenway (160),
Dylan Dailey (130), Chris Boulware (135), Chip Ness (152), Dima Aguero (189), Ben Sweatt (215)
Jose Reyes (103), J.W. Gilbert (112), Cody Etris (135), Taylor Wright (152), Daniel Moreno (171), Aaron Anderson (215)
Cody Legg (103), Drew Whitfield (119), Josh Westmoreland (130), Greyson Cochran (135), Thomas Sweeney (152), Addison Davis (160), Zack Harmon (215), Sergio Rojas (285).
East Hall
Christian Vergara (171)
Flowery Branch
Nick Lankford (119), Caleb Murphy (130), George Kudyba (189), Johnathon Martinez (285)
Dawson County
Preston Adams (152)
Habersham Central
Coleman Cunningham (140)
Jackson County
Jamie Stapler (103), Zack Moore (112), Bryan Burnette (125), Ryan Shekey (130), Justin Brewer (140), Davion Ledford (171), Austin McDonald (215)
Josh Harris (112), Isaac Kelly (119), Cason Thurmond (125), Clay Richardson (130), Jack Dollar (135), Caleb King (140), Cain Finch (145), Jake Sherman (152), Shaquille Maxey (160), Forrest Przybysz (171), Jace McClosky (189), Zach Allen (215)
Daniel Martinez (285)
Lumpkin County
Alex Ward (112), J.T. Todd (119), Aaron Salazar (145), Michael Hilliard (152), Lee Cagle (160), Travis Burton (215)
North Hall
Matt Joy (112), Tyler Kratzer (125), Shane Doster (171), Lee Sisson (189)
Towns County
Timothy Collier (135), Tyler Hoffman (152)
West Hall
Tanner Yates (140), Logan Herford (145)
White County
Billy Wurtz (103), Anthony Galimore (112), Caleb Morris (130), Michael Limbaugh (135), Dylan Shearer (145), Bradley McDougald (160), Seth Lee (171), Tyler Reeves (189)

Every wrestler who makes the traditional wrestling state championships knows the physical aspects of the sport.

However, only those with mental fortitude have a shot of taking the podium on Saturday night in Duluth.

“It’s definitely a mental game, which is something that we drill into our team at the beginning,” Flowery Branch coach Shane Lancaster said of the three-day event at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

“There’s thousands of kids from all over the state in the gym at one time, which makes it so exciting to watch,” White County coach Tim Bragg said. “As wrestlers, they can’t get overwhelmed by 12 mats all going at once on the floor inside a huge arena.”

In all, 1,008 wrestlers from around the state will have a crack at a state title. Sixteen wrestlers in each of the 14 weight classes from Class AA-AAAAA will be on hand this weekend. In Class A, it’s an eight-man bracket in each weight class.

Wrestlers from across the state qualified for the championships in a set of sectionals in each classification last weekend.

The top eight (or four in Class A) advance to the traditional finals.

Once at state, it’s a constant grind with wrestlers looking to make it through the round of 16 tonight, quarterfinals and semifinals on Friday, then the pinnacle: The championships on Saturday afternoon. Consolation rounds fill the time in between, meaning every wrestler is on a unique schedule in this individual-based championship.

Often, wrestlers will have hours to fill between matches during the state finals.

“You have to be ready at all times,” Lancaster added. “There’s really no way to prepare for the state championships.”

Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow is bringing a school-record six wrestlers to the state championships. Entering his team in the Creekview Invitational and Sham Slam this season was his way to prepare the War Eagles for the type of format they’d see at state.

“We go to tournaments during the season to mimic the waiting process like they’ll see at state,” Whitlow said. “If they have a long break, we want them to be able to leave with their parents, then come back and warm up again when it’s their time to wrestle.

“We want our kids in and out of the arena and not just sitting around all day.”

Out of all the local programs, Jefferson has qualified the most wrestlers for state with 12. Five Dragons are looking to repeat as state champions in Class AA, including Cason Thurmond at 125 pounds, a potential four-time state champion.

While White County qualified eight wrestlers for the traditional state meet, Lumpkin County and Chestatee are not far behind with six each.

North Hall and Flowery Branch each qualified four wrestlers from their respective sectional meets.

For the Falcons, 119-pound junior Nick Lankford (48-8) is looking to repeat as a state champion after winning it all at 103 pounds last season.

However, according to Lancaster, Lankford’s bracket for the state championship will be a battle with about six wrestlers that can win it.

“119 is one of the toughest weight classes in (Class) AAAA,” Lancaster said. “To win, Nick is going to have his 'A' game.”

As for the Trojans, three of their four state qualifiers, including Tyler Kratzer (125), Shane Doster (171) and Lee Sisson (189), emerged as first-place finishers from the state sectionals last Saturday in Locust Grove.

Doster (45-0) is eager for the opportunity to battle for the state title against Chestatee’s Daniel Moreno and Gilmer’s Hunter Barnes, the defending Class AAA state champion.

This season, Doster won the Hall County, Area 8-AAA and state sectionals. Moreno finished right behind Doster in each of these events this season, losing all three head-to-head matches.

If Moreno makes the semifinals at state, he’ll likely face Barnes. Doster, who also tallied a number of wins by forfeit this season, lost his shot at an Area 7-AAA championship with a loss to Barnes last year and finished fourth at state in the 152-pound division. This is the second time for Doster and Sisson to wrestle at state.

“I’m excited to be wrestling at state,” Doster said. “This is something I’ve worked very hard for and know everyone out there is a good wrestler.”

White County’s Caleb Morris (130) is also looking for a repeat after winning it all at 125 last season. Morris (38-2) spent most of the season wrestling up at 135 to prepare for this weekend. According to Bragg, one of Morris’ losses was to Preston McCalmon, a two-time state champion from Lafayette.

“I like Caleb’s chances of winning,” Bragg said. “It’s a benefit to wrestle up in weight, as long as you can stay injury free.”

Bragg feels that Bradley McDougald (160) and Tyler Reeves (189) also have a chance of placing for the Warriors.

“The state championships are so fun to watch,” Bragg added. “On any given day, anyone can go out there and win.”

Regional events