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High school wrestling: Hall County individuals, teams start final push at state traditional meet
Seth Larson
Flowery Branch sophomore Seth Larson wins the 160-pound state wrestling title for Class 4A on Feb. 11, 2022 in Macon. Photo by Amber Cloy For The Times

For 50 boys and girls wrestlers and the eight different Hall County high school teams they represent, everything they’ve worked for during the past four-plus months is on the line as the Georgia High School Association’s state traditional wrestling tournament gets underway at the Macon Centreplex.

Action in the preliminary rounds in Classes 4A, 5A and 6A began Thursday morning and continued into the championship and consolation semifinals later in the day, with the consolation and championship finals set for Friday.

Meanwhile, Class 3A and the girls all-classification brackets begin wrestling on Thursday, with the finals set for Saturday.

Among the top story lines to watch for Hall’s contingent include a number of highly-ranked wrestlers who figure to be serious contenders for individual state titles in their respective weight classes.

Perhaps the brightest spotlight will be on Flowery Branch’s Seth Larson, who will be going for his third state title in as many years and heads into this weekend’s action as the top seed in the 157-pound weight class in Class 5A.

The road to Macon got a very late start to the season for the Falcons’ junior after a preseason injury kept him out of the lineup until the Region 8-4A tournament two weeks ago.

However, the 2021 and 2022 Class 4A champ at 160 pounds has won all seven of his matches since his return, and is confident that he is both physically and mentally geared up for his shot at the three-peat.

 “Coming into the season, I didn’t even think I was even going to wrestle,” Larson said. “So I’m just grateful for the opportunity to get back on the mat and do what I do best. I’ve been dealing with (the injury) a long time, and I’d kind of just been putting (treatment) off early in the season.

“The hardest thing (has been) just mentally getting back into wrestling. Obviously, being in shape is a big thing, but I’ve gotten better with that the last couple of weeks. One of the biggest challenges has been muscle memory and (shaking) off that rust.”

Larson is one of two Hall County wrestlers who comes into this weekend as a defending state champion, with North Hall junior Connor Free in search of his second straight title in the 144-pound bracket in Class 4A after winning the Class 3A title at 138 a year ago.

Free’s Trojans teammate Zeke Harris hopes to the last step to the top of the podium at 175 after finishing as runner-up at 170 a year ago, while East Hall’s Caleb Pruitt will be looking to achieve the same feet in 4A at 285 after finishing as runner-up in the same weight class in 3A last year. Larson’s Flowery Branch teammate Cal Rockenbach is among the top seeds at 190 in 5A after placing third at 195 last year in 4A.

From a team standpoint, Chestatee coach Scott DeGraff is very excited about the chances of both his boys and girls teams to do well in the team standings thanks to strong depth from each team’s qualifiers.

The War Eagles bring nine qualifiers into the boys bracket, led by high seeds Kadin McDonald (106 pounds), Alexis Guardado (113), Ely Raines (132) and Bryant Barnes (165), that should give them a chance to challenge other favorites like last year’s 2A state champion Lovett and this year’s 4A state duals champion Central-Carrollton.

Depth is also a strength for the Lady War Eagles with seven qualifiers, led by Ashley Godinez at 155) and Jaden Lee (190), who won their respective weight classes at last week’s sectional meet.

DeGraff is equally confident could make them a contender to challenge state duals champion Carrollton and Greenbrier to become Georgia’s first girls traditional team champion.

However, DeGraff knows that all his wrestlers will have to maximize their team points with their performances in their individual brackets to give both teams a chance.

“I think both our teams are top-three teams going in,” DeGraff said. “If we wrestle well and some things kind of go our way, … I don’t think it’s out of the (question) for us to be in the running for a state championship.

“We’re in a good place right now. We’re wrestling really good right now and peaking at the right time. With nine guys, I think that puts us in the running. We’ve got six girls and one alternate, so … we’ve got several girls that I think are finalist caliber. If you get two or three in the finals, that puts you in the hunt.”

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