Area tourney schedules
4-A: Commerce and Towns County at Commerce, 5 p.m. Friday
4-AA: Riverside Military and Jefferson at Greater Atlanta Christian, 5 p.m. Friday
4-AAA: White County, North Hall, East Hall, Buford, Banks County, West Hall and Jackson County at Elbert County, 5 p.m. Friday
3-AAA: Dawson County at Pike County, 5 p.m. Friday
8-AAAA: Chestatee, Johnson and Lumpkin County at Chestatee, 9:30 a.m. Saturday
8-AAAAA: Flowery Branch and Gainesville at Flowery Branch, 5 p.m. Friday
7-AAAAAA: Habersham Central at Norcross, 5 p.m. Friday
The Chestatee wrestling team had three big goals this season.
1. Win the Area 8-AAAA area duals tournament.
2. Win the Hall County duals.
3. Win the area traditional tournament.
They’re about to give it a whirl.
“We think we can win it,” Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow said. “And our goal here is to just go in and win it.”
The Area 8-AAAA tournament starts at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Chestatee in Gainesville, with the host War Eagles looking to put six to eight wrestlers in the finals and, as Whitlow said, turn at least half into area champions.
Unlike duals, the first of the big traditional tournaments is all about the individual wrestlers, who need to finish top four in area to advance to sectionals — February 8-9 at West Laurens High in Dexter — where they will need to get top-eight to reach the state tournament in Macon.
Whitlow wants to have more area champions and more championship match participants than any other team, which would continue the dominance Chestatee started in the area duals tournament. Johnson and Lumpkin County are also in the tournament.
“We have a really good opportunity to win this tournament, and that’s what you’re going for,” he said. “That’s been our goal this year, to win area duals and win county duals and win traditional area. So far we’re two of three.
“Our goal is to push as many as we can to the finals. We feel pretty confident that we can have four guys win it, and we could double that number challenging in the finals.”
Whitlow is stressing that his wrestlers work to at least reach the championship match in area, because each wrestler’s finish at area dictates how he will be seeded for sectionals.
The War Eagles have three wrestlers who already know the drill, and are looking to get back to the state tournament in Jose Reyes-Lavallee, Christian Zapatero and Bart Velasquez.
All had a big part in the War Eagles securing the two duals titles. Now, they’ll be on their own.
“We want them to be aggressive, wrestle their match, and get the other guys on the defense,” Whitlow said. “We wrestle our best matches when we’re on the offensive. Only difference here is, you lose here and your team can’t bail you out.”
Because of precisely that reason, East Hall coach Matt Morkel said that his practices have become more individually oriented since the end of the duals season.
“We get a little more individual oriented, focusing on what an individual needs, and the practices are more personalized,” he said. “And we make sure (wrestlers) don’t get hurt, because a lot of times get guys get banged up at the end and don’t do as well as they could have.”
Morkel, in his fifth season at East Hall, said he has six or seven wrestlers capable of getting through the Area 4-AAA Traditional tournament — starting at 5 p.m. Friday at Elbert County High and concluding Saturday — and through the sectionals to the state meet.
It’d only be a natural progression for a Vikings team that has been improving year-to-year. Two years ago the team had won state qualifier and last year East Hall had three, two of whom are back for another try: J.D. Holloway and Edward Vergara.
The Vikings also finished with a winning record in duals for the first time in at least five years.
“We’re steadily improving,” he said. “Just trying to take that next step.”
While the Vikings — fourth in the Hall County Duals — certainly have a good shot at taking another step forward in area, the competition won’t make it easy.
Morkel mentioned Oconee County, state duals champion Banks County, North Hall and Buford as four of the more talented teams, each with multiple wrestlers capable of challenging for the top spot out of the area tournament.
The Wolves even boast a two-time state champ in Chip Ness, who won his second title last season at 170 pounds. North Hall will head into the traditional tournaments with two wrestlers who finished top five at state last season, including Andy Voss (138) and Tyler Kratzer (145).
And the Leopards displayed from their state duals title that they have a number of talented wrestlers capable of getting through area and sectionals — including six returning state qualifiers. Although, with only the top four in sectionals advancing this year in Class AAA instead of eight in previous years (Class AAAA and up still advances eight), Banks County coach Kasey Henley isn’t making any bold predictions for area or sectionals.
“This has got to be the toughest area in AAA. There are several teams there that could potentially win state. I think Oconee’s got a good chance to win it, North Hall, and Elbert was fourth last year in state traditionals,” he said. “Getting out of this area’s going to be brutal enough, and only qualifying four in sectionals this year instead of eight — that’s tough.
“Typically I’d feel very good that if they qualified for sectionals, they made state. Now it’s super, super tough.”
White County, West Hall and Jackson County are also in the tournament, while Dawson County competes in the 3-AAA tournament, starting at 5 p.m. Friday at Pike County High.
For 12-time defending traditional state tournament champions Jefferson, getting all 14 wrestlers through area and sectionals is the goal.
Last year the Dragons got 13 through.
“Our whole deal is trying to qualify all 14 of our guys, and the goal next week will be the same thing,” Jefferson coach Doug Thurmond said. “The more guys you have qualify, the better chance you have of winning as a team at state.”
Once again, the Dragons have the talent to make a run at a 13th state title. Although Jefferson returns just one state champ in 138-pounder Tyler Marinelli, Chase Piperato (106), Kyle Kashuba (120), Jack Dollar (145), Jake Sherman (152) and Aaron Anderson (220) all finished as the runner-up in the 2012 state tournament.
The Dragons, along with Riverside Military, will begin wrestling at 5 p.m. Friday in the Area 4-AA tournament at Greater Atlanta Christian.
Other area teams wrestling in area traditionals tournaments this weekend include Commerce — led by defending state champ Chance McClure — and Towns County in the Area 4-A tournament in Commerce, Habersham Central in the Area 7-AAAAAA tournament at Norcross High, and Flowery Branch and Gainesville in the Area 8-AAAAA tournament in Flowery Branch.