When: 2:30 p.m. today; 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: East Hall High
It may be easier for fans in attendance if the coaches at the Hall County Championships this weekend wear name tags.
Seven of Hall County’s eight high school wrestling programs have new wrestling coaches since last season.
Not all of the new coaches in Hall County are new faces. Some are back at their previous school or back at a new school after years away.
National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee and longtime Riverside Military coach Errol Bisso returned to the Eagles this season after a three-year hiatus. The Eagles are back in the GHSA after a run that included five straight Georgia Independent Schools Association state titles.
Defending Hall County champion Flowery Branch is the only school that didn’t experience a coaching turnover this year, with Shane Lancaster still in charge. He’s coached the Falcons since the school opened its doors in 2002. Under Lancaster, the Falcons have been one of the most successful wrestling programs in Hall County this decade with at least one state placer each year.
The rest of the new coaches in Hall County are a mix of seasoned wrestlers and well-regarded coaches — many with ties to Hall County. They all have the same goal to bring a little respect to wrestling in the area and put Hall County grappling back on the map.
North Hall’s new coach is Jay Hargis, who formerly coached at West Hall from 1989-1993. Hargis felt that some of the best wrestling in the state was in Hall County, and it’s his hope to return the county to its previous form.
"I think it’s great that we have so many experienced coaches that are trying to build programs in the county," Hargis said.
First-year East Hall coach Matt Morkel probably has the deepest wrestling background of any new coach in the county. Morkel wrestled at 125 pounds for the University of Iowa, one of the most well-known college wrestling programs in the country, from 2001-2005. He also won one individual state title (119) and three team titles at Skutt High in Omaha, Neb.
Morkel was drawn to the area, after coaching for one year in Maryland, by the fact that his mother and sister reside in the area.
"I think Hall County can be a great place for wrestling," Morkel said. "I think we’re trying to revive some of that tradition from the past."
Gainesville’s first-year coach Nick Niesielowski was a three-time state placer (2001-2003) during his high school career at Gilmer. Niesielowski was a state runner-up his senior season before moving on to wrestle at Anderson College. He spent one season as an assistant coach at Jefferson in 2008 before taking over the Red Elephants’ wrestling program.
First-year Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow and West Hall’s new coach Eric Radich are not new names to the area. Both spent their high school careers wrestling in Hall County; Whitlow at North Hall, Radich at West Hall. Whitlow spent four years away from wrestling before coming back to lead the War Eagles wrestling program. He hopes to build a program for the future based on stability and strong numbers from year-to-year.
"You can build a team, but it’s over at the end of the season," Whitlow said. "We’re trying to build a program that will carry over."
Radich, a former Spartans assistant coach, inherited the program when former coach Rod Galvan left following the 2008 season.
Johnson’s new coach, Richey Vickers, is also from a wrestling background. The 1995 Central Gwinnett graduate served as a lay coach for six seasons in Gwinnett County, before wrestling at an upstart Division II program, Limestone College. This is his first head coaching role.
His first priority is to instill in the Knights a wrestling work ethic.
"You have to be dedicated to wrestle," Vickers said. "We don’t have any seniors on the team, so they’re starting to understand the basic concepts of wrestling."
Not all of the teams will compete for the duals title. The format of the two-day event at East Hall is designed to wrestle in the individual format on Friday and then crown team champions on Saturday.
Riverside Military is only going to have wrestlers competing for the individual title. Without the Eagles in the duals format, it creates a bye for one team in each round.
The Hall County Championships is the first opportunity for all eight programs to wrestle in the same meet this season. It’s a proper way of foreshadowing who will fare the best in the Area 7-AAA meet on Jan. 9 with traditional powers Gilmer, Lumpkin County, White County and West Forsyth thrown into the mix.
"I’ve talked to other people and heard a lot of positive things about all the programs in Hall County," Hargis said. "If you can do well in this meet, you can do well in (Area)."