High school wrestling enters the second phase of its postseason this weekend.
Competitors have moved from the duals format to traditional, with area traditional tournaments being contested Friday and Saturday for spots in next weekend’s sectionals. The top sectionals finishers will advance to state.
Plenty of local wrestlers have a realistic chance of beginning long postseason runs. Two of the prime candidates are West Hall’s Elliott Raiford and North Hall’s Michael Carew. Both finished state runner-up in their respective Class AAA weight classes a season ago. Raiford will be in the chase for a AAA title again while Carew is pursuing a AAAA championship this season.
The top four individuals in each weight class at the area tournaments will move on to sectionals. While the focus is much more individual than in the duals competition, teams still get points toward a possible championship too.
West Hall coach Eric Radich is looking forward to seeing Raiford chase his goal of a state championship at 160 pounds, starting this Saturday in the Area 7-AAA tournament at Lumpkin County. His standout wrestler has put in the work for this moment.
Radich knows it’s not about season-long success but seizing the moment in the postseason. He’s heard a football coach say the regular season is just practice and sees Raiford, who is 41-1 this season, working with that type of mentality.
The Spartans’ Julio Gallegos (126, 28-12 record), Christian Erwin (182, 16-10) and Robbie Campbell (120, 27-16) won their respective weight classes at the Forsyth Central tournament this past weekend.
Carew, a 145-pound wrestler for the Trojans, has helped lead North Hall to both Hall County and Area 8-AAAA championships. He will look to help the Trojans make a major impact at the Area 8-AAAA traditional tournament at 10 a.m. Saturday at Chestatee.
According to coach Stuart Cunningham, other North Hall returnees who could score big points are Isaiah Hale (170), Nick Whitmire (160), Darrien Ingram (195) and Randy Galvan (220). Hale and Whitmire both claimed Hall County titles earlier this season.
Two-time area champion Austin Donaldson (132), with a 36-2 record, and 2014 area champion Marvin Cunningham (138), with a 31-5 mark, lead Chestatee in 8-AAAA. Both won Hall County championships.
East Hall’s top two contenders heading into the 7-AAA tournament are junior Will Davidson at 126 and freshman James Stoudenmire at 106.
Davidson is 44-3 overall and 22-1 at 106. He won the 132-pound Hall County championship and also took first at the Amicalola Classic and the Inferno Invitational at Elbert County. James Stoudenmire is 40-8 overall and 10-1 at 106, and he was second at the Amicalola tournament.
“We’re excited,” East Hall coach Ken Stoudenmire said. “We think we’ve got a chance of getting some kids through and qualifying them for the sectional and having something to build on.”
Gainesville will look to follow up its surprising second-place finish that earned a state berth at Area 8-AAAAA duals when it competes in the Area 8-AAAAA traditional tournament at Flowery Branch. Wrestling begins at 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday.
Kash Jones is 26-1 this year and claimed the 220-pound Hall County title for the Red Elephants. Fellow county champion Ken Flenoy (126), who has a 20-7 record, and Triston Cantrell (195), who is 12-0 in limited action, are the other top contenders for Gainesville. Red Elephants coach Nick Niesielowski feels confident enough about his whole lineup that he’s expecting big things this weekend.
“We hope to do our best to win it, by all means,” Niesielowski said.
A trio of returning area champions lead the way for Flowery Branch in the 8-AAAAA event. Hall County champ Ronny Link (120) is 34-5 this season, Nolan Alspach (132) has a 36-5 mark and Brady Dyer (145) has compiled a 40-8 record.
Falcons coach Shane Millwood said his team has been strengthened by a tough schedule. He’s also glad to transition from duals, as he expects 10 to 12 of his 14 wrestlers to advance to sectionals.
“We’re built for traditional,” Millwood said. “I definitely think we’re going to have some success.”
Johnson coach John Petty said the Knights are optimistic ahead of the 8-AAAA tournament. Heavyweight Pedro Astrada, a Hall County champion, is 49-2 and 160-pounder Fredis Velasquez carries a 47-5 mark for Johnson.
“Hopefully we’re peaking at the right time and improving,” Petty said.
Riverside Military Academy begins the Area 4-AA tournament Friday at Social Circle, with action continuing Saturday.
Nick Fernandez (160) paces the Eagles with a 31-2 record. Riverside coach Gary Papka said Social Circle won the state duals title and fellow area competitor Greater Atlanta Christian was third.
“It’s going to be tough to crack the top four in any weight class,” Papka said.