The state duals wrestling championships will begin this Saturday morning, and North Hall and Flowery Branch coaches David Nichols and John Waters have been preaching the exact same message to their athletes as they prepare for the big event: control what you can control.
“You can’t control what your opponent does or where you’re going to be wrestling or any of that,” Waters said. “You can just control your attitude, your effort and your aggressiveness on a day-to-day basis. Those are the three things, effort, attitude and aggression. And as long as you stay focused on what you can control, then you should be OK at the end.”
The Trojans and Falcons are the two local groups to finish the year as top eight programs in their classification, earning spots in a much-altered state tournament on Saturday, and in the buildup to the event, much has been out of the control of those participating.
Rather than all classifications competing in one location in Macon, this year the tournaments will be spread out. North Hall will be in the 3A bracket at Cherokee Bluff High School, while Flowery Branch will be in the 4A one at Jefferson High School. In a typical year, the state duals championships would be decided over the course of three days, with each team competing in one bout per day. This year, brackets will be concluded in one day, with each team wrestling up to three matches in one sitting.
Yet despite the changes, both Water and Nichols said they were not approaching the event any different than they would in a normal year.
“We prepare the same way,” Nichols said. “In terms of day-to-day preparation, we haven’t changed anything.”
The two participating Hall County teams enter Saturday’s competition in very different positions from a program standpoint.
North Hall has been a regular title contender for years and is the defending state champion in the 3A classification.
Nichols said he believes the experience his athletes have with big, meaningful bouts will give them an edge in this year’s tournament.
“I think any time you have the experience of competing on a big stage, that experience is to your favor,” he said. “I think our kids understand that nothing is given and that they’ve got to go out, earn every single match point. We feel like the best team doesn’t necessarily always win. The team that scores the most points on that given day wins. We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re ready to go out and compete.”
Conversely, Flowery Branch has not had a lot of historical wrestling success, and enters the state duals tournament following the best season in program history.
The Falcons finished the regular season as the No. 3 team in Class 4A, the highest finish the school has ever seen.
“We’re the underdog,” Waters said. “We may be the three seed coming into this tournament, but a lot of people are doubting us because we’re not a traditional wrestling powerhouse. We’ve never done anything like this as a team. Last year was our highest state placement as a team, and we got seventh. So we’re just trying to build on top of that. I think the guys are handling it really well.”
And while the programs are very different historically, both have been dealing with similar issues this season. Trojans and Falcons alike have dealt with losing athletes and missing practices due to COVID-19 protocols all season long.
But with the most important meet of the year right on the horizon, both teams are fully healthy and focused on the state tournament itself, rather than the obstacles they’ve cleared to get there.
“We feel like everything is coming together right at the right time like it needs to,” Nichols said. “Like everybody else, we dealt with a lot of COVID-related issues early in the season that made it difficult for us to really compete at full strength. We’re just glad that we’ve got everybody in the lineup and everybody is healthy and ready to go.”