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High school wrestling: Time to hit the mat
No clear cut favorites this season
Flowery Branch High School wrestling coach Shane Lancaster gives advice to freshmen Stefan Gale, left, and Gavin Lynn during practice Wednesday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA | The Times

High school wrestling
Important dates
Jan. 7-8        Area 8-AAAA Duals
            Area 8-AAA duals
Jan. 14-15    State duals
Jan. 28-29    Hall County duals
Feb. 2-4        Class AAAA traditionals
            Class AAA traditionals
Feb. 11-12    Class AAAA sectionals
Feb. 17-19    Traditional state meet

If any sport has been impacted locally the most by reclassification in the GHSA, it might have to be wrestling. No longer do area schools have to compete against Gilmer and West Forsyth, the two former stalwarts in Area 7-AAA, and a strong Flowery Branch program (last year’s Hall County champion) that has moved up to Class AAAA.

That’s all great news for White County.

The Warriors finished third overall and barely missed out on a shot to state with a loss to West Forsyth by only a single match in the Area 7-AAA duals the past two seasons. White County now looks primed for a run at winning it all in the new Area 8-AAA.

“We’ve been like Phil Mickelson to Tiger Woods,” White County coach Tim Bragg said. “But we feel good about our team this season with a big senior class.”

This season, White County has eight seniors and a junior defending state champion at 125 pounds, Caleb Morris.

This is the first time the Warriors have had more than two seniors in Bragg’s four seasons as coach.

However, it’s not going to be a clear path for any team to win any of the local areas in wrestling. It’s still too early to tell which teams will flourish.

“There’s a whole lot of teams revved up and ready to go,” North Hall coach Jay Hargis said. “It’s going to be interesting this season.”

Flowery Branch coach Shane Lancaster feels the same about his situation in Class AAAA.

“For us, it’s going to be interesting since there’s the element of newness with being in Class AAAA,” Lancaster said.

The Falcons left one the state’s top Class AAA area’s to join 8-AAAA, home of defending duals state champion Loganville. Also, strong wrestling programs such as Clarke Central, Rockdale County and Madison County all compete in 8-AAAA.

“We started paying attention to that area last season knowing that we would be in 8-AAAA this season,” Lancaster said. “I feel like we would have been competitive if we’d stayed in 8-AAA this season.”

“I know White County is going to turn some heads in 8-AAA.”

The Falcons will rely heavily on defending state champion Nick Lankford, Zach Cannon, George Kudyba and Caleb Schulman this season.

“There’s going to be a good bit of pressure on our kids this season moving up, but it all depends on their personality as to how they’ll react to it,” Lancaster said.

North Hall, Chestatee and West Hall will also be expected to compete in 8-AAA.

The War Eagles have beefed up their program and now have 70 grapplers at the varsity level. Even with a couple holes in the lineup left to fill, Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow feels like he has enough wrestlers to pick from to plug the vacancies.

Chestatee will be led by J.W. Gilbert (112), Taylor Wright (152), Daniel Moreno (189), along with Dylan Brock and Aaron Anderson.

“We’re not where we’re going to be as a team once the season gets going,” Whitlow said.

In Class AA, Jefferson is looking to make it 10 straight state titles in the duals and 11 straight in the traditional format. The Dragons return a number of state champions, including 2010 Times Wrestler of the Year, Cason Thurmond, who is seeking his fourth state title.

Defending state champions Zach Allen, Thurmond, Forrest Przybysz, Isaac Kelly, Cain Finch and state runner-up Clay Richardson all back on the mat this season for the Dragons.

“I think our team can win state again, we just have to keep working hard and find the right weights for the guys we have,” Kelly said.

At North Hall, Hargis plans to have some competitive wrestle-offs, which will leave some good wrestlers out of some varsity competition. Shane Doster (171) is the leading returner for the Trojans after a fourth-place finish at state last season. Also for North Hall, Cody Wilsdon (160), Lee Sisson (189) and Tyler Kratzer (119) are going to be wrestlers to watch.

West Hall will also depend on a nucleus of about four seniors to score points. Omar Lopez (119), Tanner Yates (125), Logan Herford (152) and Chris Price are the leading returners for Spartans coach Eric Radich.
“I feel like we can improve as a team,” Radich said. “But if we get where we want to be, then we have a chance to compete well.”

Also in Area 8-AAA, coaches are aware that Lanier might also have a solid program, even though it is a new school. The Longhorns have pulled athletes into the new school’s district that used to compete at North Gwinnett.

One note to the schedule that fans will notice is that the Hall County championships have been moved to the end of January. That move was made to include Riverside Military, which used to only have a handful of local students able to compete in the event when it was held around New Year’s due to students on furlough.

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