Gainesville is approaching its trip to the 16-team wrestling state duals this weekend as a building block for what coach Nick Niesielowski hopes is a bright future for the program.
As the No. 16 seed, following a second-place finish at the Area 8-AAAAA duals, the Red Elephants open in the Class AAAAA bracket at 2:45 p.m. today against No. 1 Woodland-Cartersville in Macon. This marks Gainesville’s first trip to the team championship meet since 2005, according to Niesielowski.
“We’re very excited to be headed to Macon,” Niesielowski said. “Being able to take our entire team and let them see the environment of wrestling in state is huge.”
With 16 teams in the brackets for Class AAA-AAAAAA, the state championship weekend is three days. The eight-team brackets in Class A and AA begin wrestling Friday. All six classifications are wrestling on the floor of the Macon Coliseum.
The top-seeded team in each classification is the clear frontrunner to win it all under a format in which every weight class wrestles for each team to determine who will advance.
In Class AAA, Jefferson is looking for its 14th straight state title, while five-time defending champion Gilmer is favored to win in Class AAAA. In Class A, Commerce enters as the No. 1, while Social Circle is No. 1 in Class AA. In the state’s largest classification, Archer is the top-seeded squad.
For the Red Elephants, 22 wrestlers will get the experience of traveling to see how they match up against the state’s best.
Gainesville’s coach said his team’s initial goal is to win two matches and make it to the final day of wrestling Saturday.
Gainesville’s top wrestlers this season have included Ken Flenoy (126 pounds), Tristen Garrett (152), Terrell Knight (160), Anthony Costantini (170), Triston Cantrell (195) and Kash Jones (285).
In Class AAAA, third-seeded North Hall and fifth-seeded Buford will both be wrestling in Macon. The Trojans topped the Wolves for the Area 8-AAAA title on Saturday.
First-year Trojans coach Stuart Cunningham, who previously guided Dawson County to a duals state title in 2003, said his wrestlers are prepared to take it one match at a time in a staunch field.
Cunningham said a dedicated assistant coaching staff and parent support network have the Trojans geared up for a strong weekend. North Hall is led by John Pedraza (106), Michael Carew (145) and Randy Galvan (285), among others.
As for Buford, it enters state in a familiar situation. Last year, the Wolves were runner-up in area duals to Banks County, but went on to top the Leopards for the state championship.
Wolves coach Rob Carlyle is confident in his team, even though they are without a pair of star seniors from last year: four-time state champion and University of North Carolina signee Chip Ness (182) and three-time champion Brayden Hartley (132).
This year, Buford is paced by Eli Hartley (120), Darius Bunch (126), Jack Barber (132) and Trent Ferguson (145).
For North Hall and Buford to have a winners-bracket rematch in Macon, it would have to come in the championship match, based on the way the bracket is drawn.
“I know our guys would love to wrestle North Hall again,” Carlyle said.