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High school wrestling: Chestatee, Flowery Branch looking for success at state duals
Chestatee High's Baker McCormack, left, and Cody Humphries prepare for the upcoming Hall County Duals during the War Eagles' practice Wednesday afternoon at the Sardis recreation gymnasium. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Wrestling state duals
At Macon Centreplex

Flowery Branch vs. Northside-Warner Robins, 6:30 p.m. Thursday

Class AAAA

Chestatee vs. Glenn Hills, 4:30 p.m. Thursday
Lumpkin County vs. Gilmer, 4:30 p.m. Thursday

Class AAA

Banks County vs. Pierce County, 9:45 a.m. Friday

Class AA

Jefferson vs. Calhoun, 11:30 a.m. Friday

Class A

Commerce vs. Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy, 1:15 p.m. Friday

Last year, the goal for the Chestatee wrestling team was simply to get to Macon.

This year, it’s to make some noise.

“We think we’ve got a shot,” Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow said. “We’d like to come in top five, and we have a chance at that.”

Last season the War Eagles finished sixth in their first trip to the state duals tournament. More than half of that team is back for another go, and this time with more momentum with Chestatee having cruised to an Area 8-AAAA title Saturday with a 55-15 win against Lumpkin County in the championship match.

“It’s not that they won the area, it’s how they won,” Whitlow said. “With some area champions every match came down to the last match. But our guys were on strong, and that’s how you win at this level.”

The War Eagles will look to keep the momentum going at 4:30 p.m. Thursday against first-round state duals opponent Glenn Hills at the Macon Centreplex.

While Whitlow said his team would not be making the mistake of overlooking any of the 16 teams in the tournament, he did concede that the team is seeded much better — and is in much better position for a run — then last year’s squad which entered as the 4-AAA runner-up.

That team was matched up against No. 1 seed Heritage-Catoosa in the opening round, falling 46-20 and dropped immediately to the consolation bracket, where the War Eagles went 3-2 the rest of the way.

Now much of that team is back, including Bart Velasquez, Jose Reyes-Lavallee and Christian Zapatero, among others. It’s once again a team strong in the lower weights, although the War Eagles have talent all over the lineup.

“Last year many of these guys went, and we made sure to play a lot of younger guys to get them out there,” Whitlow said. “Now we’ve got over half that team back.

“The seniors are our leaders, but everybody’s got to come together.”

For Chestatee, it all starts Thursday with a second straight drive down to Macon.

For Flowery Branch, winners of Area 8-AAAAA, it’s a first-ever trip after a first-ever area duals title. Like Chestatee and Lumpkin County (opening at 4:30 p.m. Thursday against powerhouse Gilmer), the Falcons start at 6:30 p.m. Thursday when they are scheduled to open against Northside-Warner Robins.

Flowery Branch coach Shane Millwood said that, despite Flowery Branch having never been in this spot before, the team still has a high goal.

“We’re shooting for a top-four finish,” he said. “That was our goal right out of the gate — win area and finish top-four at state.

“And we’re using the fact that it’s our first time to our advantage. We’re kind of the unknown team, so the best thing we can do is let our wrestling do the talking, and that’s what we plan to do (tonight).”

Regardless of whether they win or lose, the Falcons — a balanced team but strongest in the upper weights, according to Millwood — will compete again on Friday.

Three more area teams open the tournament Friday, when the eight-team Class A-AAA brackets open. Area 4-AAA champs Banks County, one of the top teams in AAA all season long, starts against Pierce County. In Class A, Commerce is back in Macon on the heels of last season’s fourth place finish and is taking on Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy in the opening round.

And then there’s Area 4-AA champs Jefferson, the longest running state dynasty. The Dragons start their quest to hold the Class AA state duals title at 11 a.m. Friday against Calhoun.

Jefferson has won all 11 state duals titles, but coach Doug Thurmond is making sure his wrestlers are motivated to win a 12th.

“Our guys know there’s a lot of pressure there to keep it going and not break the chain,” he said. “We talk about that they need to make their own mark, not live on other peoples.”

This year may even be a bit easier to keep the motivation going with defending Class A traditional champs Bremen — which also finished third last season in state duals — having moved up to Class AA.

“They’re definitely motivated about who’s out there,” Thurmond said. “There’s several real good teams out there, and Bremen’s one of them. They’ve won several in Class A — they were just behind us a lot of times when we were in A — and now they’re in AA. They’re going to be very good.”

And then there’s the experience this once again loaded Jefferson roster has from The Clash duals tournament in Minnesota, where the team wrestled against much of the country’s best and experienced a feeling unusual at Jefferson: Losing.

“They’ve tasted what it feels like to lose, and they don’t like that a whole lot,” Thurmond said. “And that’s a lot of the reason why we like to go.”

Whitlow isn’t worried about his wrestlers being motivated to be back in the state duals, he just wants Chestatee to be a regular competitor down in Macon.

“This ought to be something we do every year, making the state duals,” he said. “But we don’t take anything for granted. Every team on that list could beat us, or we could beat anybody on that list.”

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