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Prep wrestling: Grapplers anxious to take center stage
Flowery Branch senior wrestlers Tom Pennington, right, and Corey Johnson work out during the team’s practice Tuesday afternoon. The Falcons qualified five grapplers for this week’s traditional state championships at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Flowery Branch senior Tom Pennington has one last shot.

And this recent Area 7-AAA champion at 215-pounds doesn’t want to let this chance to waste.

Pennington is shooting high as a hopeful for the traditional state championship in his class as the four-day meet begins today at The Arena at Gwinnett Center at 7 p.m. tonight in Duluth.

“I’ve been preparing all year long for this,” Pennington said. “It’s my senior year and this is what I’ve been looking forward to the most.”

Flowery Branch is coming off of a productive season, winning county duals and finishing top among Hall County schools in the Area 7-AAA tournament last Saturday at Gilmer High.

Pennington is part of a group of five Falcons heading to the individual state meet along with Area 7-AAA champions Zach Cannon (103), Danny Bell (112), Ben Yu (140), and Corey Johnson (160).

State qualifiers were determined by finish at respective area meets. The top four finishers were automatic state qualifiers and the fifth-place area finisher is an alternate if a qualifier is unable to compete.
The finals are set for 7 p.m. on Saturday with title matches in every classification.

“The guys we have can get in the middle and wrestle well,” Pennington said. “They’re a great group of kids and do a lot to succeed.”

Flowery Branch coach Shane Lancaster also has reason to be optimistic as the Falcons are the current Hall County champions and highest placer in the Area 7-AAA meet out of Hall County with a fourth place finish.

“State will be tough no matter what,” Pennington said. “All you can do is just go one match at a time.”
Despite their track record of success this season, Lancaster knows that when it comes to the state tournament it will be the toughest field they see all season.

“They realize they have their work cut out,” Lancaster said, “but all-in-all they’re pretty positive.”

Wrestling isn’t all physical. Mental preparation is an equal part of the equation.

“Aside from the traditional conditioning, we’re getting our mental edge ready as well.” Lancaster said. “We are trying to simulate state as well as we can, but nothing gets you truly ready until you’re actually there.”

Flowery Branch is not alone in the list of Hall County schools with wrestlers aiming for a state title.

West Hall has four grapplers going to state.

Colby Yates, a senior, is a favorite to win the 130-pound division with a 53-1 record this season and is a Hall County and Area champion. He is looking to place at state for the fourth consecutive season.

The Spartans also send his younger brother Tanner Yates (112), Chan Morris (152) and James Gray (145) to state.

Kyle Patton (112), Zach Agerton (130), Nick Quinn (135), and Jason Day (152), are representing North Hall at state.

Joey Wirsing (171) and Micah Mills (189) are going to state from Johnson. Chestatee’s Conner Comeaux (125) and Julian Olinger (119) are state qualifiers, as is Dane Hicks (125) of Gainesville.

Lumpkin County is sending nine wrestlers to the state meet.

Among them are Area 7-AAA champions Wesley Forrester (103), Brandon Roberts (189) and William Alaniz (145).

Jamal Payette (145) and Tyler Hamilton (275) are among seven wrestlers competing for White County, who finished fifth in region individuals.

At the Class A level, Jefferson looks to continue its dominance at the state tournament level.
In January, Jefferson captured its seventh consecutive Duals title and with a win this weekend, the Dragons will have won eight straight traditional championships.

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