DULUTH — For White County’s Caleb Morris, making the Class AAA’s state championship match at 130 pounds was just a formality. After dominating his first three matches, including winning by fall in the first two rounds of the traditional state championships, Morris’ confidence seems justified.
“I’m not cocky, I just know I deserve it,” said Morris, following his semifinal victory on Friday at the Gwinnett Arena. “I know how hard I’ve worked to get to this point.”
Even an offseason knee surgery couldn’t derail Morris, last year’s state champion at 125. Now, he’s penciled in to face Locust Grove’s Jarred Benefield for the state championship today, their fourth time wrestling this season. Morris won the first three matches against Benefield this season, including last Saturday in the state sectionals at Locust Grove.
And for wrestlers who, like Morris, have wrestled in a spotlight like tonight’s final will provide, the big crowd shouldn’t be a distraction.
“I’m not going to be as nervous this year,” Morris said. “I’m not going to be star gazed by the atmosphere of the championships.”
Not to be overshadowed, two Lumpkin County wrestlers are also going to be battling for a state championship.
Lumpkin County’s Lee Cagle, a sixth-place finisher last season, locked up a spot in the Class AAA finals at 160 with an overtime takedown against Allatoona’s Luke Rakes. Rakes looked to have the upper hand as overtime began, but was quickly flipped by Cagle, who earned two points and the victory.
“I’ve been coaching Lee since he was in the seventh grade, and I know what he’s made of,” Lumpkin County coach Brian Matthews said. “We talk all the time about how takedowns win championships.”
Meanwhile, 215-pound Travis Burton topped Gilmer’s James Longino by a 5-2 decision. He has the opportunity to win state after not placing in the tournament a year ago.
“Both of our wrestlers that are in the finals have worked extremely hard,” said Matthews, whose team is seventh in the points standings in Class AAA. “They both deserve this opportunity.”
In Class AA, Jackson County’s Austin McDonald (215) and Buford’s Chip Ness (152) are also in the state finals.
North Hall senior Shane Doster lost in the final seconds of his Class AAA semifinal bout at 171. Buford’s Chris Boulware (135), West Hall’s Logan Herford (145) and Chestatee’s Daniel Moreno (171) also lost semifinal matches. Still, these wrestlers are guaranteed a top-six finish, depending on the outcome of today’s matches.
In the consolation bracket, North Hall’s Lee Sisson (189) battled through to win against LaGrange’s Justin Cox in a 9-3 decision. As a semifinal winner in the loser’s bracket, he’ll have the opportunity to wrestle for third place this morning.
Other wrestlers competing for a top-six finish include Chestatee’s Jose Reyes (103), Flowery Branch’s Nick Lankford (119), West Hall’s Tanner Yates (140), Jackson County’s Ryan Shekey (130) and Davion Ledford (171).
Jefferson’s Cason Thurmond (125) lost in the semifinals in a bid for his fourth consecutive state championship in Class AA. Four Dragons are wrestling in the finals today and 12 Jefferson grapplers have a chance of earning a spot on the podium. Jefferson is in first place in Class AA, looking for its 11th consecutive traditionals state team title.