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Wrestling talent deep in Area 8-AAA
Area duals open today at Oconee County
West Hall’s Omar Lopez, right, and Anthony Villicana work out during the Spartans’ Wednesday afternoon practice for the upcoming Area 8-AAA duals at Oconee County High.

Area Duals

Area 8-AAA Duals at Oconee County, 4 p.m.

Area 6-AA Duals at Greater Atlanta Christian, 5 p.m.

Area 8-A Duals at Wesleyan, 5 p.m.

Area 8-AA Duals at Fannin County, 5 p.m.

Area 8-AAAA Duals at Clarke Central, 5 p.m.

From top to bottom, seeding for the Area 8-AAA Duals was close. If that’s any indication, the battle for the two qualifying spots to the state meet will be just as interesting. The area tournament starts today and wraps up on Saturday at Oconee County High in Watkinsville.

“All of the teams in the 8-AAA are much improved over last year and a number of the teams have a good chance to advance to the state tournament next weekend in Macon,” Oconee County coach Jimmy Herring said. “White County is probably the favorite to win the tournament, but Lumpkin County, North Hall, Chestatee and Oconee will definitely try their best to make things turn out differently.”

When the official seeds were announced on Wednesday, Oconee County earned the top spot, with White County second.

Lumpkin County is seeded third as a result of a loss to White County, and North Hall earned the all-important No. 4 seed with a two-point victory against Chestatee on Tuesday.

Teams in the top four earned a first round bye with two rounds of the championship bracket being contested on Friday, along with the first two rounds of the consolation. With its loss to North Hall, Chestatee earned the No. 5 seed.

“This area duals is really going to have some great wrestling matches,” North Hall coach Jay Hargis said. “Unfortunately, only the top two get to go (to state).”

Rounding out the rest of the seeding are West Hall (sixth), Franklin County (seventh), Gainesville (eighth), Monroe Area (ninth), Stephens County (10th), Walnut Grove (11th), Johnson (12th) and Lanier (13th).

The biggest change as far as this year’s tournament is the number of teams. Last year, only eight teams battled for the title, while the area now includes 13 teams, most moving in from 7-AAA last season.

White County coach Tim Bragg loves his program’s move over to Area 8-AAA. It means the Warriors don’t have to contend with schools like Gilmer and West Forsyth anymore.

The past two seasons, White County lost out in the final match to West Forsyth, which sent the Wolverines to state. In 2010, Gilmer and West Forsyth went on to finish first and second respectively at the state duals, which goes to show how strong 7-AAA was before it was sliced up.

“Our team is really getting geared up for the area duals,” Bragg said. “This is something we’ve been preparing for since last season.”

That’s not to say that Bragg is saying that a No. 2 seed to the duals in any way guarantees a spot to state. He says that the teams in the top half are all capable of making some noise. “There’s such a narrow margin going into it.”

Managing a schedule early in the season is constructed by most coaches around preparing a program for the duals. Bragg, for instance, constructed White County’s schedule with the goal to get in as many dual matches as possible. The Warriors achieved that by wrestling in 11 dual matches the week before Christmas at the West Oak Duals in S.C.

“We sought out the best competition to get our team ready,” Bragg said.

Meanwhile, Oconee County already has a solid season going with wins at the Classic City Championships, as well as the Hurricane Duals. North Hall has picked up a first-place finish at the John Smith Invitational.

Chestatee coach Carey Whitlow believes the strategy for an event such as this makes it most compelling and also why so many teams have a chance to win.

“It’s a toss up,” Whitlow said. “It comes down to who has that one match that no one counted on.

“Then you also may have one team just gets blown out of the water because you’re dealing with high school kids and you never know what to expect.”

Even No. 6 seed West Hall has a chance to sneak up and grab a spot to state in Whitlow’s opinion. Chestatee won head-to-head by the score of 42-36 against West Hall on Dec. 14. Even though the War Eagles lost out on the No. 4 spot to North Hall with a two-point loss earlier this week, part of that was due to the fact that Chestatee had four regular starters not wrestling.

With the duals, everyone is trying to work with their best lineup possible.

For White County, defending state champion Caleb Morris, Bradley McDougald, Will London and Michael Limbaugh are all having a fabulous season so far.

Meanwhile, North Hall has received great leadership from undefeated Shane Doster, and a great season so far by Cody Wilsdon. Also, Tyler Kratzer, Clay Williamson, Taylor Marett, Cam Howell and Tyler Goss have wrestled well for the Trojans.

And most teams in the top half have wrestlers that are serious contenders to pick up points in the team format.

“It all comes down to who’s healthiest and how we lineup,” Whitlow said. “One through six, we all have a shot at going to state.”

The state duals are Jan. 14-15 at the Macon Centreplex.

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