at Macon Coliseum
Flowery Branch vs. Effingham County, 6:15 p.m. Thursday
Chestatee vs. Locust Grove, 4:30 p.m. Thursday
Lumpkin County vs. Upson Lee, 4:30 p.m. Thursday
Banks County vs. Blessed Trinity, 8 a.m. Friday
Buford vs. Sonoraville, 8 a.m., Friday
Jefferson vs. Pepperrell, 11:30 a.m. Friday
Commerce vs. Strong Rock, 1:15 p.m. Friday
There’s no greater motivator than a chance at redemption.
That’s exactly the situation as the Flowery Branch wrestling program appears in the state wrestling duals for just the second time tonight in Macon.
First up for the Falcons in the 16-team, Class AAAAA bracket is Effingham County. These two schools have history.
In 2013, Flowery Branch matched up against Effingham in the second round of the consolation bracket, losing in the final bout at 195 pounds, according to Falcons coach Shane Millwood. Flowery Branch won its first match at state last season, 51-21, against Northside-Warner Robins, before losing to in the second round and falling into the consolation against Ware County, 44-21.
Now, it’s time for a rematch as Flowery Branch and Effingham County square off again in the opening round at 6:30 today at the Macon Coliseum.
“There wasn’t any motivation needed on my part in practice,” said Millwood. “We have some unfinished business.”
Flowery Branch and Effingham County have already met this season after meeting at the Panther Invitational, an individual-format meet, earlier this season at Jackson County.
Locally, it’s many of the same players trying to earn that coveted team-format title. Jefferson has won every year at duals since the format originated in 2002, while Banks County is the defending Class AAA state champ. In Class AAAA Chestatee and Lumpkin County both open tonight.
War Eagles coach Carey Whitlow likes the strategy that goes into the duals meet. Wrestlers are able to go up one class from their proper division.
Scouting for Whitlow and his staff started early on the other 15 programs once they locked up a spot in the meet for the third consecutive season. Chestatee has been top eight in Macon each of the past two seasons. If the War Eagles win, they will likely face Marist in the second round Friday.
“There’s a lot more strategy involved with the duals state meet,” said Whitlow. “This is the equivalent of the playoffs in football.”
On Friday, Buford in Class AAA, and Commerce in Class A open in the eight-team field for the three smallest classifications.
Though both formats are different, Jefferson coach Doug Thurmond said its equally enjoyable to win the meet where the wrestlers in each of the 14 weight classes get to the mat to try and earn points toward the overall score.
He still regards the traditional meet, which this season is Feb. 13-15 at the Gwinnett Arena, the “granddaddy of them all.”
“The duals meet is very fun and challenging,” said Thurmond, who guided the team to the Area 4-AA title last Saturday. “It’s (the duals meet) still the new kid on the block.”
Just to make it to the state duals is a task in itself. Only the top two programs from each Area dual meet earn a spot in Macon. Once at state, it requires four wins for the champion to emerge in Classes AAAA-AAAAAA, and three wins in Classes A-AAA.
Banks County earned the Area 4-AAA title with an exciting 34-32 win against runner-up Buford on Saturday in Watkinsville. The Wolves have already claimed the Gwinnett County championship this season, the first for the program in school history.
Buford enters state after outlasting Class AAAAAA Grayson by 27.5 points for the Gwinnett Championship on Dec. 21 in Dacula.
After the duals state meet, the individual portion of the schedule kicks off in earnest with only five weeks to the individual championship in Duluth.
For Jefferson, it enters state, like every other season, as the team to beat. The Dragons, looking to make it 13 straight in the duals, beat Rabun County and then runner-up Social Circle, to advance to Macon.
“We have a big bulls eye on our back and are going to get everyone’s A-game at state,” Thurmond said. “So we’re going to also have to bring our A-game in order to win.”