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High school wrestling: Local teams have high expectations for area duals tournaments
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Area Duals Tournaments

7-AAAAAA at Duluth

Habersham Central

8-AAAAA at Clarke Central

Flowery Branch

Gainesville

8-AAAA at Monroe Area

Chestatee

Johnson

Lumpkin County

4-AAA at Oconee County

Banks County

Buford

East Hall

Jackson County

North Hall

West Hall

White County

3-AAA at Woodward Academy

Dawson County

4-AA at Jefferson High School

Jefferson

Riverside Military

Union County

4-A at Holy Innocents’

Commerce

Towns County

Area duals this year are going to have a bit of a different flavor for the Flowery Branch wrestling program.

Even having moved up one classification to wrestle in Area 8-AAAAA, the Falcons will still be seeing some of the same competitors as years past, but this season, the team is trying to make history.

“This year is a little bit different for us,” said coach Shane Millwood. “We’re going in as the No. 2 seed and trying to do something we’ve never done here at Flowery Branch, which is qualify for state duals.”

The region did not make drastic changes due to realignment, but new to 8-AAAAA is fellow Hall County school Gainesville, which Flowery Branch will face in the first round of the duals on Friday at Clarke Central High in Athens.

“We’ll get Gainesville the first round,” Millwood said. “We’ve wrestled them this year and had some success, but they did not have their football players out, so we’ll take that into consideration.”

Should Flowery Branch beat Gainesville in its first match, the Falcons will advance to face the winner of the Loganville/Heritage match in the area semifinals.

Millwood considers Loganville and Clarke Central the toughest teams in the area, so to prepare for the tournament, the second-year head coach focused on making sure his team played a difficult schedule throughout the season.

“If somebody placed at state or won it, we put them on the schedule.” Millwood said. “So we’ve been wrestling the Jeffersons, the Gilmers, the Collins Hills, the Popes. Hopefully that tough schedule is going to end up paying off for us.”

So far, it has paid off for the Falcons, who have consistently placed in some of the most challenging tournaments in the area.

“Every tournament we’ve been in, we’ve placed in,” Millwood said. “We took second at West Hall’s Spartan Slam. Jefferson ended up beating us in the finals. We took third at the Grayson Butcher’s Choice duals, and lost to a very good North Forsyth team.”

Most recently, Flowery Branch competed in the Kyle Maynard Duals, a national tournament hosted by Collins Hill. The Falcons posted a 3-2 record in the tournament, including a win against potential area opponent Loganville.

This weekend, Flowery Branch hopes to continue their success and will depend on a strong core of seniors to do so.

“Seniors are going to end up playing a substantial role in how we do,” Millwood said. “Ben Horton, he’s a senior that’s been wrestling really well for us his whole career.

“Robert Bland, Danny Garza, Anthony Williams. They help us out because they’re heavyweights, and a lot of teams struggle up top.”

Millwood also expects great things out of some of the younger wrestlers, like Zach Winter and Brady Dyer, who he considers some of the “elite” wrestlers in the state.

“When they step on the mat, we expect them to win and our team feeds off that,” Millwood said.

Millwood also expects teams around the area outside of 8-AAAAA to see success in their respective duals this weekend.

“Chestatee, them and North Hall, they have established programs,” Millwood said. “They’ve always been competitive. Johnson’s got a ton of kids out, and they’re placing at tournaments.”

Like Flowery Branch, Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow said that his team only had one goal in their Area 8-AAAA tournament.

“We expect to win,” he said. “We’re not going just to go wrestle.”

The War Eagles expect to go into Saturday’s tournament at Monroe Area High in Monroe as the No. 1 seed, but Whitlow knows that one opponent will be especially tough.

“Ourselves,” he said. “The right guys have to show up.”

The lower weight classes for this Chestatee team are the stars for the War Eagles, with dominant forces like Jose Reyes, Christian Zapatero, Austin Donaldson, and Bartolo Velazquez, leading the way.

“They just win,” Whitlow said.

Whitlow believes this team is the best group he’s had in a while, but they have to stay healthy and remember one important rule.

“Don’t get pinned,” he said. “To win a dual meet, if you get five pins and the other eight lose by decision, you still win 30-27.”

“Our magic number is 42. If we score 42 points and just one of our guys doesn’t get pinned, we still win.”

The War Eagles have already seen what they can do against some of the teams in 8-AAAA.

“We finished ahead of Stephens County and Madison County at the Madison Duals, beat Lumpkin County in our own barn last week,” Whitlow said.

Now, they just have to continue their winning ways to complete their goals.

“If we don’t win, it’s going to be a disappointment,” Whitlow said.

Then there’s the team Flowery Branch’s Millwood said could be an unexpected force in their area.

“The team to look out for is probably going to be East Hall,” he said. “Not only does he (coach Matt Morkel) have a lot of kids out, he’s got them bought into what he does over there.

“If we go to a tournament and we see East Hall there, they’re right in the mix of things.”

The Vikings have placed in almost every tournament the team has been to so far this season and could be a sleeper in Area 4-AAA, which includes local teams such as North Hall, Banks County and Buford.

Morkel considers the new area almost as strong as the one the team came from last season, minus perennial powerhouse Jefferson.

“We had Jefferson last year, so we’re accustomed to being in a strong area,” Morkel said, “It’s not really any easier this year.”

Going into the Area 4-AAA tournament on Friday at Oconee County High in Watkinsville, Morkel does not have lofty goals for his team, just to continue to build on the success they’ve had this season.

“We’re continuing to try to build week to week,” Morkel said. “We’ve seen a few of the schools this year, so we’re trying to improve on our performances against them.”

The Vikings will get their first chance to improve when they face East Jackson in the first round of the tournament, a team East Hall faced last week.

“We wrestled them earlier last week at Dawson and didn’t have a great performance against them,” Morkel said.

Although the ultimate goal would be a berth to the state meet, Morkel’s team is simply trying to improve upon last year’s finish.

“Last year, we went out in that fifth or sixth spot, so hopefully we can match or improve, but we’re in a tough area,” Morkel said. “There’s no guarantees.”

“Right now I think the team to beat is Banks County. They’re seeded number one and rightly so, they’re perhaps number one in the state for AAA right now, so we’ll have some teams trying to chase them.”

No matter the outcome for the Vikings, however, Morkel can almost guarantee one thing.

“Should be some great wrestling,” he said. “I think you’ll see the top teams in the state come out of out this region.”

Regional events