As high school wrestling programs around the state gear up for this weekend’s Georgia High School Association duals state championships, most coaches agree their teams aren’t in the best possible position to win.
That’s because the championships, which are today and Saturday at various locations, were originally scheduled for Jan. 14-15. Inclement weather forced the event moved to the week after the state traditionals, normally the final event of the season.
That means wrestlers who didn’t compete in area or state traditionals have gone three weeks on the shelf.
“It’s a disadvantage,” said Jefferson coach Doug Thurmond, whose Dragons will compete for a 10th-straight state title. “Some of your guys want to move on to spring sports, and they’ve been held up, so it’s tough.”
Unlike traditionals, teams can pick from different wrestlers to compete in a given weight class throughout the tournament.
“We have to keep around non-starters in case we need them,” Commerce coach Kendall Love said. “It’s hard to keep them motivated, because the chances of them wrestling are slim. It’s better to have the duals in January and get them out of they way, then once the individual tournament begins, they can call it a season.”
Jefferson, out of Area 8-AA, and Area 8-A’s Commerce are two of four area schools competing in the state duals, along with Banks County (8-AA) and Lumpkin County (8-AAA).
The Dragons are coming off a team victory at the state traditionals, their 11th straight. Ten Dragons placed in the event.
They’ll compete in the Class AA finals at Toombs County High, starting against Greater Atlanta Christian today.
The Dragons enter the tournament in the familiar territory of being the team the rest of the field is shooting for.
“The pressure mounts (as the streak goes on), especially for the coaching staff,” Thurmond said. “You don’t want to lose, there’s an expectation level, and we have the bull’s eye on our back. No one else is expected to win, so you can’t blame them for coming after us. There’s a lot of pressure there and I know no one wants to be the team to break the chain.
“Inevitably, that year will come. We just hope it’s not this year, or next year.”
Banks County hopes it’s this year.
The Leopards have finished second to Jefferson at the area duals the last three seasons.
“Throw any other team in the state in our area and they’d finish second too,” Banks County coach Kasey Henley said.
Perhaps no coach at state outside of the Dragons’ staff understands the legacy Jefferson has created better than Henley, who graduated from the school in 1995, another year the Dragons won state.
If the Leopards are to face Jefferson at state, it will be in the finals. If they’re fortunate enough to get that far, Henley is hoping there’s not a fear factor concerning Banks County.
“They continue to set the standard high for the rest of the state,” Henley said. “They give us all something to aim at and I hope we’re not intimidated. We just have to take it one match at a time.”
The Leopards, who placed three at state traditionals, open today with Dublin, the Area 4-AA champion.
In Class A, Commerce is shooting for its first top four finish since 2009, when it took third. The Tigers placed seven at state traditionals and will face Mount Zion today at Bremen.
“They have some solid wrestlers,” Love said. “I feel like if we do our best, we should advance.”
In AAA, Lumpkin County, which placed three at state traditionals, will face Westover today at Locust Grove.
“I feel like we can compete against them,” Indians coach Brian Matthews said. “I told the kids my expectations for them are to just wrestle as hard as they can and what happens, happens. There are a lot of good teams out there, and I feel like we can compete with any of them.”