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Wrestling fans prepare for state championship excitement
Gwinnett Arena adds to the atmosphere of finals
Chestatee High School wrestling coach Carey Whitlow watches as wrestlers Christian Zapatero, top, and Jose Reyes-Lavalee run through some practice moves. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

state qualifiers
Class AAAA

Sam Martin, Habersham Central (120), Ben Horton, Flowery Branch (120), Zach Winter, Flowery Branch (126), Nick Lankford, Flowery Branch (132), Caleb Murphy, Flowery Branch (138), Coleman Cunningham, Habersham Central (145), Eli Bloomfield, Flowery Branch (160).
Class AAA
Jose Reyes-Lavallee, Chestatee (106), Greg Hilliard, Lumpkin County (106), Taylor Marett, North Hall (106), Matt Joy, North Hall (113), Frank Preyer, Gainesville (113), Bartolo Velasquez, Chestatee (113), Tyler Goss, North Hall (120), Tommy Luc, Johnson (120), Alex Ward, Lumpkin County (120), Christian Zapatero, Chestatee (126), Anthony Gallimore, White County (126), Andy Voss, North Hall (132), Elliot Raiford, West Hall (132), Daniel Locklear, Lumpkin County (138), Tyler Kratzer, North Hall (138), Evan Maine, Gainesville (145), Will Stonecypher, White County (152), Taylor White, Chestatee (152), Jake Graham, Gainesville (160), Kyle Wesley, Chestatee (160), Michael Hilliard, Lumpkin County (160), Lee Cagle, Lumpkin County (170), Andrew Posten, White County (182), Dylan Brock, Chestatee (195), Cam Howell, North Hall (220), Damion Grayson, Gainesville (220).
Class AA
Chase Piperato, Jefferson (106), Taylor Wood, Banks County (106), Michael Shekey, Jackson County (106), Kyle Kashuba, Jefferson (113), J.T. Wood, Jackson County (113), Josh Harris, Jefferson (120), Zach Moore, Jackson County (120), Mason Patton, Banks County (120), Brayden Hartley, Buford (120), Tyler Marinelli, Jefferson (126), Conner Andreasen, Jackson County (126), Francisco Hurtado, Banks County (126), Isaac Kelly, Jefferson (132), Cory Jenkins, Dawson County (132), Clay Richardson, Jefferson (138), Tony Fultz, Banks County (138), Bryan Burnette, Jackson County (145), Edward Vergara, East Hall (145), Jack Dollar, Jefferson (145), Cain Finch, Jefferson (152), Carlos Negron, East Hall (152), Jake Sherman, Jefferson (160), Daivon Ledford, Jackson County (160), Preston Adams, Dawson County (160), Jace McColskey, Jefferson (170), Chip Ness, Buford (170), Eli Smallwood, Banks County (170), Forrest Przybysz, Jefferson (182), Evan Kells, Dawson County (182), Dima Agueuro, Buford (182), Carson Newman, Jefferson (195), Phillip Dean, Banks County (195), Aaron Anderson, Jefferson (220), J.D. Holloway, East Hall (285), Tyler Flanagan, Banks County (285).
Class A
Cody Legg, Commerce (113), Chris Harvey, Riverside Military (120), Nick Thompson, Riverside Military (138), Timothy Collier, Towns County (138), Greyson Cochran, Commerce (145), Trent Reddish, Commerce (152), Zack Stroud, Towns County (152), Tyler Hoffman, Towns County (160), Thomas Sweeney, Commerce (170), Brian Whitfield, Commerce (195), Chance McClure, Commerce (220).

Wrestling fans take a lot of pride in the fact that their sport has one of the most popular championship events in high school athletics.

Starting today, prep wrestlers from all corners of the state will converge on the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth for the all-classification state meet.

The pinnacle of the weekend is Saturday afternoon when the majority of the 13,000-seat arena is filled almost to capacity to see state champions crowned in all five classifications and 14 weight classes.

"This is the place to see the best wrestling in the state, period," Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow said.

The state championships will have an even greater reach this season with the finals broadcast on WSB-TV, locally on Comcast channel 248.

According to Whitlow, Governor Nathan Deal will also be in attendance to hand out medals.

A 16-man bracket is in place for the weight classes in Class AA-AAAAA, while Class A wrestles with an eight-man bracket in each class.

With a 16-man bracket, it takes three straight wins to make it to the finals, but in Class A it takes a 2-0 record.

"This is the culmination of the entire season right here," said Jefferson coach Doug Thurmond, who is carrying a wrestler in 13 of 14 weight classes to state. "The hay's in the barn at this point, and it's their time to go get it."

Even though 11-time defending state champ Jefferson is the strongest team locally, the best wrestlers are not all isolated to a couple schools.

All 18 schools in this area that field a wrestling program are sending at least one wrestler to the state meet.

North Hall and Chestatee are both sending six wrestlers to state, while Flowery Branch and Lumpkin County each have five competing. Gainesville had four qualify from the state sectionals for state.

With a wrestler competing in all but the heavyweight class, the Dragons have a solid chance of making it 12-in-a-row atop Class AA this year.

Jefferson claimed the state duals title last month in Macon.

Jefferson has three individual state champions looking to defend a state title from last year, including Cain Finch (152 pounds) and Forrest Przybysz (189) both looking for their third straight.

Also for Jefferson, Isaac Kelly (132) was a state champion in 2010, but was one of three from the school to finish runner-up last year.

Another unique angle to the state meet is the three-day duration, which leaves for plenty of down time.

While wrestlers from other parts of the state are forced to stay in the area, local wrestlers have to prepare mentally for the grind of waiting such long gaps of time between matches.

"That's a big key, being mentally ready for it," Thurmond said. "There's no magic to it because every kid is different."


Regional events