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High school wrestling: Chestatee boys, girls lead Hall County's contingent in state duals sectionals this weekend
Chestatee 132-pound wrestler Eli Raines (back) competes Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023, at Chestatee in the finals of the Region 8-4A duals against North Oconee. Photo courtesy Chestatee wrestling program

The battle for the first of the two jewels of Georgia’s high school wrestling’s crown begins in earnest this weekend, and Hall County will be at the center of it.

Chestatee will host a four-team sectional tournament as part of the preliminary round of the Georgia High School Association’s state dual-meet tournament for in the boys Class 4A bracket and girls all-classification bracket, with both holding hopes of earning a berth in the state finals tournament Jan. 21.

The Lady War Eagles, who claimed the first-ever Area 8 girls title last weekend, will be the top seed and host No. 4 seed Berkmar in the first round of the single-elimination tournament beginning Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Chestatee Academy Middle School, with a victory sending them into the championship meet against the winner between Alexander and Wheeler later in the evening.

Then on Saturday, the Chestatee boys, who also won their Region 8-4A duals championship last week at home, will welcome three other schools to the Lynn Cottrell Complex, including first-round foe Starr’s Mill, for a one-day, four-team tournament, with wrestling starting at 10 a.m.

For the Chestatee boys, last week’s region title, which came following meet victories over East Hall (66-18), North Hall (43-21) and North Oconee (45-29), gives them plenty of momentum heading into this weekend.

And head coach Scott DeGraff is confident that a similar effort could make the War Eagles a serious contender for the Class 4A state title next weekend.

“We’re healthy right now. Our guys are wrestling really well,” DeGraff said. “We’re 32-3 on the year as a dual team. … As I tell our kids all the time, if we show up and wrestle hard, there’s not many people in the state that can beat us right now.

“Our kids have worked really hard the last three years since I’ve been coach here. We’ve got a great group of coaches. Our parents are awesome. It’s kind of all coming together right now. The kids have bought into the vision that we had three years ago.”

Chestatee showed the kind of focus and effort DeGraff is looking for in last week’s region duals, especially from the lighter weight wrestlers like Owen Etris at 106 pounds, Kadin McDonald at 113, Alexis Guardado at 120 and Eli Raines at 132.

Those four, along with Angel Garduno at 157 and Daniel Zaleta at 215, won all three of their individual matches last Saturday, and DeGraff is hoping for a similar looking this weekend throughout the entire lineup this weekend.

“We’re really good down low (in the lineup),” DeGraff. We’ve got a lot of kids down low who are returning state placers. But I will say that when we got to the finals (at region last week), we knew that North Oconee is just as good as us down low. We went back and forth.

“We beat them at 132. That was a big match for us. Eli Raines wrestled a kid who finished second at state last year. The top of the lineup really came through in that dual (against North Oconee). I will say, though, that (while) the lower half has been a strength for our lineup all year, the upper half won us (that) dual in the finals.”

Meanwhile the Lady War Eagles will also rely on similar depth in the girls dual tournament Friday, led by Courtney Hawkins (105), Rylee Etris (130), Abby Plemons (135), Charlotte Wheeler (140), Ashley Godinez (170) and Jaden Lee (190).

Chestatee isn’t the only Hall County school that will be in action at state preliminary tournaments this weekend.

Both Gainesville teams will also take to the mat, with the Red Elephants serving as the No. 3 seed in a Class 6A preliminary and taking on second-seeded Marist in the opening round at Newnan, while the Lady Red Elephants, who finished as runner-up in the Area 8 girls meet to Chestatee last week, serving as the No. 2 seed, with a first-round matchup with Norcross on Friday at Woodward Academy.

Hall County’s other two representatives in the preliminaries this weekend, both boys teams, will be Flowery Branch, which is seeded second and will take on third-seed Tucker in a Class 5A tournament at Ola, while No. 4 seed North Hall travels to top-seeded and host Troup in a different Class 4A tournament.

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