When: Matches begin at 9 a.m.
Where: West Hall Middle School and West Hall High School
For many local teams, the 2008-09 wrestling season kicks off with the second annual Army Strong Spartan Slam, which begins at 9 a.m. today at West Hall High School.
The meet will feature 12 teams in 14 different weight classes, ranging from 103 pounds to the heavyweight class. Six mats are prepared for the event, with morning preliminary matches taking place at the high school and West Hall Middle School and the finals at the high school only.
"It’s a season opener for most of the teams coming," West Hall coach Eric Radich said. "It’s without a doubt an exciting way to start the season."
This year’s meet features the teams from all classifications, including three AAAAA schools (Brookwood, South Forsyth, Newton) and three AAAA (Stone Mountain, Apalachee, Winder-Barrow). Two area teams — host West Hall and Johnson — will also appear in today’s event.
One of the most heralded teams at the meet isn’t from a higher classification or an area team.
=Defending Class AAA state champion Gilmer is also slated to participate today, but due to injuries they will only have one grappler, 145-pound Cody Bollinger, wrestling.
Other teams scheduled for the meet are last year’s Spartan Slam runner-up West Forsyth, Pickens and the lone Class AA team, North Oconee.
"This meet is a good measuring stick for everybody," Radich said. "It lets everyone see what they’re like versus the big teams."
The two area teams competing each lost key members from last year’s teams, but also return new grapplers with another season and offseason training under their belt.
The Spartans, who finished third last year, enter the tournament led by sophomore Tanner Yates, who will wrestle in the 119-pound class. A state qualifier last season, he is the younger brother of current Belmont Abbey wrestler and Hall County’s all-time wins leader, Colby Yates.
Other West Hall key wrestlers include 145-pound senior Rudy Vazquez and 130-pound freshman Logan Herford.
Johnson enters the tournament without its two state qualifiers from last year, but returns three juniors ready to challenge for a state appearance. 160-pounder Cam Evans leads the Knights and is joined by 152-pounder Michael Gillham and the 215-pound Aaron Black.
With a younger team returning and no previous matches to compare teams with, Radich believes today’s meet will be an exciting one with all 12 teams at the same level of competition.
"The level of competition is untested," Radich said.
"But this is our stepping stone. We won’t be at our peak (today) but instead we’re climbing a mountain."
Regardless of the uncertainty of the season, Radich is positive his wrestlers, many of whom are just coming off football season, are ready for another year of wrestling, starting today.
"All the football players are back out here and are all about wrestling season," he said.
"They’re anxious to see if there’s anything new (in their opponents)."