WATKINSVILLE — With an area duals championship and a trip to the state duals on the line, North Hall and Chestatee wrestlers squared off in the Area 8-AAA finals on Saturday at Oconee County High.
And with just one match remaining in the final, the title was still up in the air.
In a highly contested bout between the two teams, which had topped Oconee County and Lumpkin County, respectively, in the semifinals earlier in the day, it took the determination of North Hall’s final wrestler to finish the job.
With North Hall clinging to a 33-30 lead going into the final match, Allan Kattelmann recorded a pin to give his team a 39-30 victory and send it to the state competition, which will begin on Friday in Macon, for the first time in 10 years.
“I was worried going into the final match,” Kattelmann said. “He had me down, but I was able to pull a good move out. It was just a flood of relief.”
The win improved the Trojans to 8-3 in duals this year and gave coach Jay Hargis his first crack at a state championship.
Hargis took over the program four years ago with the goal of helping the team compete at the state level.
“It’s exciting,” he said after the win. “When I took over, I told the parents we were going to have to learn to crawl, then walk, then jog, then run. This was our ‘run’ year.”
Hargis also attributed the team’s success to the fact that many of his wrestlers are part of the football team as well.
“They lift weights and get stronger throughout the football season, so when they come to me, they’re in great shape,” he said.
The win did not come without its difficulties. North Hall faced a very determined Chestatee team that was going for its first trip to the state duals in school history.
“It’s always close when we face them,” Hargis said. “We always go back and forth, just like we did today. I’d rather it be just us, but they’re a good team.”
Despite the loss in the final, Chestatee’s hopes of going to state weren’t dashed by the Trojans, as the top two teams from each area advance.
The War Eagles (20-6) had to face White County, which had just topped Lumpkin County in the consolation final, for second place in the tournament.
Behind a quick start that saw the War Eagles pin five straight Warriors, Chestatee was able to pull out a 45-33 win to advance to the state competition.
Coach Carey Whitlow commended his team on its ability to come back from a tough loss like the one against North Hall.
“I think that’s the toughest thing to come back from,” he said, “because we’re coming off a tough loss, and White County is coming off a strong win. We had some bad matches, and we had some good matches. But I thought we bounced back well.”
Whitlow, who went to the state competition as a coach at North Hall, said he was proud to be a part of the first Chestatee squad to advance.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “This is good for our school, but it’s also good for our county. People have always said you can’t build a strong wrestling program in Hall County, but we’ve got two teams going to the state competition. It should be exciting for everyone.”
Senior Cody Etris echoed his coach’s words.
“It feels like we finally accomplished what we set out to do,” he said.
Lumpkin County (18-5) finished fourth in the area competition after dropping its final match against White County, a team it had beaten on Friday.
“(White County) just wrestled better the second time out,” coach Brian Matthews said. “Simple.”
Lumpkin County advanced in the previous match against Gainesville when the Red Elephants, who recorded more pins, received an unsportsmanlike penalty.