GAINESVILLE — The pressure is there. Just ask veteran Riverside Military Academy wrestlers like Bill Dearybury and Tersoo Uhaa who have been a part of previous Eagles state championship teams.
Riverside’s streak of five consecutive state championships is very much on their minds as they prepare for the Georgia Independent Schools Association state wrestling tournament, which begins at 5 p.m. today at Riverside’s campus in Gainesville.
But pressure isn’t the problem. The problem is that Dearybury and Uhaa are two of the only Eagles who have wrestled with a state championship on the line, and they’re the only two seniors on a team in transition, made up mostly of underclassmen.
"It’s an eye-opener that’s for sure," Dearybury said of his first season on a non-powerhouse. "The way we put it is, the younger kids don’t know how to win yet. They don’t understand what it’s like to be a part of a team that’s just dominant."
His fellow captain agreed.
"Just trying to create that sense of confidence in the younger guys has been one of the hardest things," Uhaa said. "There’s a lot of learning that has to take place — a lot of moves to learn for the younger guys."
That’s not to say the Eagles haven’t found any success.
Riverside took second place in the GISA Region 1-AAA tournament and first-year coach Gary Papka said he believes the Eagles have a legitimate shot at extending their state-title streak to six this weekend.
"We’re young; that’s why we’ve struggled a little bit this year," Papka said. "We’re not very experienced in a lot of weight classes. But I think the strength of this team is that while we may not have the top wrestler in many classes, we’ve got a lot that are competitive and are in the top three or four in the state."
Dearybury probably represents the Eagles’ best shot at an individual state champ. He finished second in state last year at 171 pounds and is unbeaten this year in the same division. "The only person I can think of that I haven’t wrestled this year is Tyler Thompson (of Westfield)," Dearybury said. "But I know the guy that I would face in the finals has pinned him, so I feel pretty good about it."
Without last year’s state champion at 135 pounds, Gary Gilbert, who’s out for the season due to injury, Uhaa is the only other Eagle to earn a top-three finish in last year’s state meet. He took third-place last season at 215 pounds and this season has lost only twice at 189 pounds.
"If it works out the way it should, (Uhaa will) face the only guy that’s beaten him in the finals," Papka said. "They’re on opposite sides of the bracket, so it could be a big showdown in the finals."
The team’s heavyweight, junior Colton Keig, will also be depended upon to score points for the Eagles this weekend. Papka said he’s one of the state’s best, but with the way the bracket fell, his biggest test could come in the semifinals.
Papka has high hopes for freshman Doug Kellermeyer, too, saying the 119-pounder picked up a favorable draw in the brackets.
Kellermeyer certainly doesn’t lack for confidence. When asked how he expected to finish this weekend, he said, with only a second’s hesitation, "I plan to win."
That’s the kind of confindence Papka and team captains Dearybury and Uhaa believe will carry them through this weekend and beyond.
"More than half the team this year are first-year wrestlers," Uhaa said. "Still, with that we’ve been able to generate a lot of wins."