Last year the Chestatee wrestling team was the perennial runner-up, finishing second at the area duals tournament, the Hall County duals and the area traditional tournament.
This year, in the words of War Eagles coach Carey Whitlow, they finished “first, first, first.”
Chestatee secured the last of those three firsts with a 10.5-point win over Lumpkin County in the 8-AAAA Area Traditional tournament Saturday at Chestatee High in Gainesville.
The War Eagles, who won their first area traditional title, finished with four area champions and are sending 10 wrestlers to the state sectionals tournament this weekend at West Laurens High in Dexter.
“The guys did a great job; we punched eight guys into the finals, one unexpectedly,” Whitlow said. “I think they got tired of second and they worked to do better.”
The unexpected finalist was backup 145-pounder Drake Barnes, who took over after an injury derailed Chestatee’s No. 1 wrestler at the weight class and advanced to the finals before falling to finish second overall.
Chestatee’s expected finalists largely delivered as well, with Jose Reyes-Lavallee (106 pounds), Austin Donaldson (120), Tommy McCormack (160) and Cody Humphries (170) all finishing on top. Bart Velasquez (113), Christian Zapatero (126) and Zach Cheshire (132) also finished second, along with Barnes, for Chestatee. Of the four to win in the finals, only Lavallee reached state last season — he did it by beating some of the same wrestlers in sectionals that he had lost to in area — and none of the four had finished first in area before.
Donaldson, a sophomore who is headed to sectionals for the first time, finished fifth in the area last season (the top four advance) by beating Monroe Area’s Bud Nguyen, the same wrestler he beat by major decision Saturday to grab an area title.
“It feels good, really good,” Donaldson said. “When Bart (Velasquez) lost, I felt like I needed to win for him.”
Velasquez, Chestatee’s lone area winner last season in Class AAA, lost by pin to Lumpkin County’s Greg Hillard, a win that briefly put the Indians ahead in the overall points race, one that Chestatee led by 40 points after two rounds but Lumpkin County had cut to 1.5 at the start of the finals.
“It was a close run, but we’re not disappointed to finish second to Chestatee,” said Lumpkin County coach Brian Matthews, whose team was able to leave the tournament early after a slightly altered finals schedule due to the threat of winter weather in Dahlonega.
“We wrestled well, and Chestatee’s a good team. We’re getting there.”
Last season Chestatee finished second and Lumpkin County third in the area 8-AAA traditionals behind champion Oconee County, which remained in Class AAA.
The Indians actually had the most sectional qualifiers with 12 of 14 advancing — nine of them underclassmen — including Hillard and Daniel Locklear (138) as Area champs, and Andrew Davis (160) and Zach Kile (285) as runners-up.
McCormack’s win over Davis in a 6-4 decision that saw the Indians wrestler battling with a bloody nose as well as his opponent, put Chestatee ahead by 4.5 points in the overall race. Lumpkin County’s loss at 285 against Lanier in the following match sealed the tournament title for Chestatee.
Whitlow credited the turnaround from last season’s parade of runner-up finishes to a number of factors, including the addition of two new assistant coaches, an increase in fan support, and a new facility to practice in: The Sardis recreation gym.
We’re out of the way and nobody bothers us, and we can practice when we want,” he said. “And when the whistle blows, it doesn’t bother anybody but us.”
Saturday, Whitlow was pleased with not just another win, but in sending so many to sectionals.
“We got some state placers here is what we got,” he said. “We’re taking 10 to sectionals, and based on that we ought to have eight going to state, although I’d like to take 14.”
The Johnson Knights — with a program on the rise — were happy to send six to sectionals. Jose Martinez got the Knights an individual win with a pin-fall at 195, one of two Johnson wrestlers, along with Pedro Estrada (220), to reach the finals.
The Knights finished fourth overall behind No. 3 Eastside.
“This was a good warmup for us,” Martinez said. “We said we were going to do something special this year and we did it.”
Chestatee finished with 231.5 points, while Lumpkin County had 221. Eastside was third with 183.5, while Johnson finished fourth at 149.