MACON — For the first time since 2002, Chestatee High wrestling coach Carey Whitlow found himself back at the state tournament.
And North Hall, the team he had brought here 10 years before, wrestled beside his War Eagles on Friday night; it was a glimpse into how far Hall County wrestling has come — two teams in the state duals for the first time.
And after both teams lost in the first round, and North Hall lost another tough one Friday night to Carrollton 40-30, Chestatee assured that Hall County would be represented through day two with a 63-15 rout of Cairo. The War Eagles will wrestle Glen Hills in the second round of the consolation bracket at 9:30 a.m. today.
Chestatee fell to No. 1 seed Heritage, Cattoosa 46-20 in the opening round, but bounced back in a big way to stay alive.
“There are four teams going home tonight, and we’re not one of those four,” Whitlow said. “We expected to beat that team pretty good.”
That says something for a program making its first trip to Macon, and there’s no reason to think it will be the last trip for either team.
“You’ve got two teams in the county here,” Whitlow said. “It’s real good for us and our programs.”
Early on in the opening match on Friday, North Hall looked like a regular state duals contestant, sprinting out of the gate against perennial state contender Eastside and taking the first four matches.
But the Eagles clawed back, taking the lead after three consecutive pins, the last in the 160-weight class to seal what would end up being a 41-34 Eastside win, knocking the Area 8-AAA champs to the consolation round.
“They used history on their side,” North Hall coach Jay Hargis said of Eastside. “They’ve been here almost every year.”
The experience began to take its toll in the middle weights as Eastside slowly but surely mounted a comeback, turning a 31-23 North Hall advantage after a Trojans pin at 145 pounds, into a 41-31 lead and an insurmountable margin after an Eastside pin at 171.
Hargis was looking for more out of a tough first round match, but he’s still pleased with how the North Hall program is coming back to prominence.
“We’re reestablishing our North Hall tradition,” Hargis said. “And with Chestatee here as well, and East Hall and Flowery Branch both doing well in area tournaments, Hall County’s coming back.”
Getting that first tournament out of the way for the wrestlers is a crucial first step, no matter how long it lasts.
“When we walked in the other day the guys were like, oh wow,” Hargis said. “But we got used to it.
“We’ve just got to keep sharpening up.”
North Hall and Hargis plan on making this trip not an awe-inspiring event, but an annual tradition.
“We plan to be back,” Hargis said.
JEFFERSON ON ROAD TO 11TH TITLE: It’s no secret that everybody wants to beat Jefferson.
“We’ve got bullseyes on our backs,” said Dragons coach Doug Thurmond. “They’re definitely after us and it’s understandable.”
That doesn’t mean that opponents ever hit the bullseye.
After a 62-11 win over East Laurens on Friday night, the 10-time state duals champions advanced to the semifinals of the 11th annual tournament at the Macon Centreplex. Jefferson will face Calhoun at 11 a.m. today and the winner advancing to the championship match.
Even after falling behind 12-0 to their second round opponent, there was little worry along the Dragons’ bench that the team wouldn’t advance in their quest to keep their stranglehold on Class AA.
Because the wrestlers knew that it was possible that they would fall behind early.
“They’ve got a real good 220 and a good heavyweight, and we knew we were starting at a good place for them,” Thurmond said. “You don’t want to get the snowball effect going, and Chase (Piperato) did a good job of stopping that.”
The match started at 220 pounds, and East Laurens took the first match by injury forfeit and the second by pin, putting the pressure on the Jefferson 103-weight, Piperato.
Piperato went right to work, attacking at every opportunity and recording a technical fall over his opponent to get Jefferson on the scoreboard 12-5. From then on, only the Dragons score would move up, while East Laurens actually lost a point on a penalty late in the contest.
Jefferson advanced to the second round after disposing of Greater Atlanta Christian 58-11 to start the tournament.
And while it may have just been one more win in a long line of success in Macon over the years, Thurmond and the Dragons still don’t take the duals for granted.
“This is special,” Thurmond said. “You just line your whole group of wrestlers against somebody elses.
COMMERCE ADVANCES TO SEMIFINALS: As Commerce wrapped up its 62-18 win over Mt. Zion, Carroll in the first round of the state duals tournament, the team could see its path to a first state title all around.
“I feel like we’ve got a good team, but you’ve got three or four other great teams as well,” said Commerce coach Kendall Love. “And we’ve got our hands full in the morning.”
On one mat the Tigers semifinal opponent, Holy Innocents, was wrapping up an easy win over Turner County. On another, defending state champs Bremen was holding off a tough Social Circle team. If Commerce can take down Holy Innocents at 11 a.m. today, Bremen would once again be the likely finals opponent.
“If we make it past Holy Innocents, we’ll see Bremen in the final,” said 138-pounder Josh Westmoreland, who took on Bremen as a sophomore in the 2011 finals. “Now that we’ve wrestled Bremen, we know what to expect.”
Commerce has finished third overall in the past, but last year’s runner-up finish to Bremen was the furthest the program had ever been.
Westmoreland thinks that this might just be the team to take that final step.
“We’ve got some real strong weight classes,” Westmoreland said. “We’ve got what it takes if we wrestle right.”