Hall County Duals Championship
When: 5 p.m. today, 9:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: North Hall High
Round 1 schedule: West Hall vs. Chestatee, North Hall vs. East Hall, Flowery Branch vs. Riverside, Johnson vs. Gainesville.
The Flowery Branch wrestling team has a dynasty to defend when the Hall County Duals Championship kicks off today at North Hall High.
The Falcons have won four of the last five installments of the annual round-robin county meet, including last year’s title. The recent success has made them a favorite to win it all again this year, but coach Shane Millwood’s team won’t be without serious challenges on their way to another first-place trophy.
“When Hall County rolls around, we’ll be trying to finish strong and win those matches because of those in-county rivalries,” Millwood said. “I think the kids will be up for that and finish strong.”
Flowery Branch is on the short list of contenders to win the eight-team county tournament following its Area 8-AAAAA Duals title earlier this month and the ensuing victory the Falcons earned in their first match at the Class AAAAA State Duals two weeks ago in Macon. It was the team’s first-ever area duals title and first state duals appearance.
But Flowery Branch won’t be alone when it comes to local participants with area and state-level accomplishments to its name entering the Hall County Duals Championship. In fact, the Falcons won’t even be the only area champion and state duals qualifier.
Chestatee, last year’s county runner-up, enters the meet with comparable accolades to Flowery Branch. The War Eagles took the Area 8-AAAA crown this season and also won a match at state.
The two teams have a competitive history on the mat. In last year’s Hall County Duals, the Falcons won the meet title over Chestatee via tiebreaker. After the two teams and North Hall each defeated each other to force a three-way tie, Flowery Branch’s 16 individual match wins between the tied teams was a hair better than the War Eagles and the Trojans.
When Chestatee and Flowery Branch met this season in a quad-meet on Dec. 4, the county rivals battled down to the wire again. The Falcons won the match 39-36, slipping past the War Eagles in the final weight class.
“We know they’re a good team, and they also won at state duals,” Millwood said. “[Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow] does a good job there.”
Chestatee and Flowery Branch will meet in the second round of the meet at 6:30 tonight. North Hall, last year’s third place team, faces Chestatee in Round 4 at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and Flowery Branch in Round 6 at 1 p.m.
Whitlow believes the tournament champion will be revealed between those three matches, with possible spoiler teams in East Hall and Johnson.
“We have three solid teams,” Whitlow said. “It’s all about lineups. We don’t match up well with some of them and they don’t match up well with some of the others.”
For many of the participants, the county championship serves as a final chance to prepare for next week’s area traditional tournaments outside of practice. Each team competing in the meet will face each other once, giving wrestlers a possible seven matches in two days.
The grind is sure to test grapplers in all weight classes, but also poses the potential threat of injuries just one week before the majority of them compete in the most important meet of the season at their area traditional tournaments.
“It’s kind of a tough time to have a Hall County duals, because it’s so close to area,” Whitlow said. “When it comes down to it, it’ll be who can fill their lineup with the least injuries and the least sickness. All of the teams are suffering through that right now, towards the end of the season.”
Rounds 1-3 begin at 5 p.m. today. Matches resume Saturday with Rounds 4-7 from 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.