Class AAA sectionals
Where: Eagle’s Landing High, McDonough
When: 5 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. Saturday
Directions: From Gainesville, take Interstate 985 South and I-85 south to Atlanta. Stay on I-75 through Atlanta and exit at exit No. 222 Jodeco Road/Flippen. Turn left on Jodeco Road (GA-351) then turn left on Tunis Drive. Continue onto Tunis Road. Eagle’s Landing High is located at 301 Tunis Road, McDonough.
Wrestlers that qualify for the traditional state championships this season will have truly earned it. Georgia high school wrestling has sharpened its criteria this season for those that hope to advance to the all-classification state meet on Feb. 19-21 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Not only to wrestlers have to go through the gauntlet of the area tournament, but they also have to survive and advance through a newly organized state sectional process this weekend in order to make it to state.
"As a fan of wrestling, I think having a sectional is a good idea," said Flowery Branch coach Shane Lancaster, who has seven wrestlers taking part in the Class AAA state sectionals. "It makes qualifying for state harder."
The math of having a sectional process shows how much more tighter making the field at state becomes. Each sectional will have 16 wrestlers in each of the 14 weight classes, making 224 in all. From there, only half make it to the individual state championships.
"Our team is really excited about this weekend," Lancaster added. "But they know they aren’t there yet."
State sectional locations are split between east and west with Interstate 75 serving as the dividing line. Local Class AAA wrestlers are competing at Eagle’s Landing High in Stockbridge starting on Friday.
State duals champion Jefferson has the luxury of playing host to other Class AA state powers like Lovett, Blessed Trinity, Dublin, Toombs County and Benedictine this weekend.
Dragons coach Doug Thurmond said his goal is the same as every year. He’s trying to qualify all 14 of his wrestlers for state as they take aim at their ninth consecutive traditional team title.
"Our sectional is going to be really tough from top to bottom," Thurmond said.
Lancaster said that in the past, too few wrestlers in a given weight class could result in byes all the way to the state championships. Most coaches agree, that’s no way to determine who earns the right to travel to the state finals.
The possible drawbacks of having a sectional is that some of the more talented weight classes will weed out some really good wrestlers before they get to state. Also, with a statewide field many wrestlers will have to wrestle against the same opponent back-to-back weekends.
"I think with the sectionals you can start to learn the other wrestlers’ tendencies," Thurmond said. "But at the same time, they can also start to feel you out."
From Area 7-AAA, Gilmer and West Forsyth each qualified nine wrestlers for the state sectionals. Evan Burchette (130 pounds), Tyler Everton (145), Jeff Sayer (215) and defending state champion Dane Magnussen (285) all won area titles for the Wolverines last weekend. Cody Bollinger (140) and Christian Barnes (160) won area title for the Bobcats.
White County’s Caleb Morris (103) won an area title last week. The Warriors finished third in the area last weekend. Danny Bell (119) and Ben Yu (152) finished first in area for the Falcons, and Zach Cannon (112) and Brandon Dyer (130) were both area runners-up.
Chris Burnett (135), Jake McClure (171) and Brandon Roberts (189) all enter the sectionals as No. 1 seeds from Lumpkin County after winning the area title in their weight classes last week. Other Area 7-AAA champions include Creekview’s Grant Eddy (112) and Pickens’ Andy Rowland (125).