Chestatee has been second a lot this season. Second in the Hall County championships, second in area duals.
And the War Eagles wrestling team finished second again, this time to Oconee County, at the Area 8-AAA traditionals tournament on Saturday at Chestatee High. It was the best finish at the tournament in the school’s history.
“That’s the best that Chestatee has ever finished in the 10 years the school has been open,” War Eagles coach Carey Whitlow said. “We have a lot of good kids and we’re taking a bunch down to sectionals next weekend.
“I’m proud of these guys. And win or lose, we give God all the glory.”
And, along with two second-place finishers, four third-place wrestlers and one in fourth, Chestatee junior Bartolo Velasquez delivered the hosts another first — a top finish in the 113 weight class.
Velasquez fell behind North Hall’s Matt Joy early in the match before turning the tide and recording a third straight pin in the title match.
“I just wanted to win,” Velasquez said. “So I just went out there and did all that I could.”
Not only did the win secure his first area title, Velasquez punched his ticket to the sectionals traditional meet next week at West Laurens High for the first time.
“It feels amazing,” the junior said. “Now I want to win at sectionals and place in the top three at state.”
The War Eagles are taking eight to sectionals, where a top-eight finish will mean a spot in the state tournament. Whitlow said that not just Velasquez, but all eight of his wrestlers, have a chance to advance to state.
“I think we’ve got a shot to send everybody from sectionals to state,” the Chestatee coach said. “I think we’ll be okay.”
Chestatee nearly had a second area champion in Dylan Brock, but Monroe Area’s John Callihan (195) rallied with five points on a takedown and a near fall to tie the match at 11 as time ran out in the third period, sending it to overtime. Callihan eventually won 13-11 in overtime.
The War Eagles were also wrestling without their starting 182-pound wrestler, who would have been a No. 1 seed but was unable to wrestle due to medical reasons.
The hosts still took the fight to Oconee County, but the Warriors’ four first-place finishers proved to be the difference.
Oconee County, which held off the War Eagles 212.5 to 202.5, was the only other team to get as many as eight wrestlers in the top four.
Lumpkin County, which finished third (177), came in just behind with seven wrestlers headed to sectionals including three as area champions.
“Anytime you have multiple area champs, it’s always a good year,” Indians coach Brian Matthews said.
It was the second area title for 160-weight Michael Hillard, and another strong step toward a state title for 2011 state runner-up Lee Cagle. Alex Ward (120) also won an area title for Lumpkin County.
North Hall rounded out the top four teams in the meet and will be sending six wrestlers to sectionals, including a pair of area champions in 138-weight Tyler Kratzer and 220-weight Cam Howell.
“We’ll do well as we go to sectionals, because the wrestlers have proved themselves,” said Trojans coach Jay Hargis, who also noted the increased competition in the area with other local teams improving. “It’s definitely gotten a lot tougher.”
Both North Hall wrestlers outlasted tough opponents to earn decisions, including Kratzer, who held off Oconee County’s Ethan Griffith 5-2. It’s a type of score that may not mean as much in a duals tournament, but at traditionals, a win is a win.
“It’s really a different feel. In duals you’re trying to get as many team points,” the Trojans junior said. “This removes the pressure of going all out to get a pin. In this you’ve just got to get to the next match.”
It’s a strategy Kratzer will take with him as he tries for another win at sectionals and a medal at state.
“Absolutely, my goal is to place,” Kratzer said.
Fellow North Hall junior Howell also won a tight match in the finals, holding off the Warriors’ Chris Allen 7-4 to grab his first area title.
“I was begging my friends to come see me be area champion,” Howell said. “I knew I couldn’t let them down. I’m so stinking excited.”
More local teams had reason to be excited as well.
Gainesville, led by a second-place finish by 145-weight Evan Maine, who lost a 3-0 decision in the finals, finished fifth overall at the meet and will send five wrestlers to West Laurens.
White County, which had an area champion in 182-weight Andrew Posten, finished sixth and will send four to sectionals.
Johnson and West Hall finished ninth and 10th, respectively. The Knights, led by 120-pound runner-up Tommy Luc, will send two to sectionals, as will the Spartans.
All fifth-place finishers are alternates for sectionals, which begin on Friday afternoon in Dexter.