Before the season began, Chestatee wrestling coach Carey Whitlow wrote down a few goals to keep to himself for the season.
Some were easily attainable; others would require a bit of work for his team to achieve. Others, still, were off in the distance, goals that would require the highest level of dedication from his wrestlers, and bit of luck along the way, to achieve.
“I secretly put down goals every year,” Whitlow said. “I put some bodacious goals down that I think we can reach if everything goes perfectly.”
This year’s goal?
“We wanted to reach the state dual meet,” he said. “I thought it could be a realistic goal.”
In its 10-year history, Chestatee has never advanced past the area duals to the state meet in Macon. A strong start to the season, however, has given the War Eagles (17-5) a No. 1 seed in the area 8-AAA duals, set to begin at 3:30 p.m. today at Oconee County High, and a fighting chance at making history.
“We had a four-year plan with these guys,” Whitlow said. “We took a few freshmen, guys that didn’t know anything else but us, and we brought them up in the program. We’ve had consistency here. Now, I think this is probably the first time we’ve legitimately had a shot at making it to Macon in 10 years.”
In order to advance, Chestatee will have to finish in the top two at the area meet. While it will face stiff competition from the likes of No. 2 North Hall, No. 3 Oconee County and No. 4 Lumpkin County, the team, according to Whitlow, has worked harder than ever this season to prepare for this moment.
It starts with a motto: Working hard is hard work.
On the surface, it seems like an obvious statement. But the phrase has resonated with the team and has inspired them to work harder than even Whitlow could have expected.
“I’m impressed with the team’s work ethic at practice,” Whitlow said. “I don’t ask for anything but their all. Nothing more, nothing less. We’ve had some guys that didn’t work as hard, and we let them go.”
Austin Donaldson, who has compiled a 20-6 record so far this season, detailed the work that has gone into the season. Members of the team run in their spare time, work out and practice two hours each afternoon. This week, he said, the intensity of each practice has increased to meet the importance of the upcoming competition.
“It’s pretty much the same amount of time, but a lot more work and effort has gone into it,” he said. “Coach always tells us that perfect practice makes perfect. Practice doesn’t make perfect — perfect practice does. We have to learn to do things the right way.”
Dylan Brock (21-3) noted that the team even practiced over the holiday break.
“Our workouts have been harder,” he said. “We’re all very dedicated, and we’re trying to perfect what we do. If you give it your all in practice, there won’t be a doubt in your mind that you’re prepared for the match.”
And even with the rigorous afternoons, Whitlow said, the team is still willing to put even more in. The varsity team comes in two or three mornings each week. The wrestlers arrive at 6:30 a.m. and are on the mats by 6:45.
“These guys work harder as a team than any team we’ve had here,” he said. “Collectively, they’re hard workers.”
And it hasn’t just been the wrestlers. Whitlow has worked to improve his strategy, which, he says, is an important facet of the sport.
“There’s a lot of strategy involved,” he said. “If we’ve got a really good wrestler that might face a state champ, then we’re probably going to bump our guy to another weight class so that he has a chance at some points. We’re working on putting guys in the right places to succeed, and we’re working on not getting pinned.”
Donaldson commented on the team’s need for a strong mental approach this weekend.
“We can’t be worried or nervous,” he said. “We’ve got to just go out there and go as hard as we can.”
All in the hopes of reaching that once-distant goal of making it to state.
It would be a major accomplishment for a team so desperate to make it to the next level.
“I’ll just say it like this: If God allows us to go to state, then he’s getting all the glory for it,” Whitlow said.
Brock may have said it best.
“I get goose bumps just thinking about it.”