Two area Georgia high school wrestling teams with extremely high hopes face tough postseason tests right off the bat in their area duals tournaments today.
Heritage, ranked at the top of the pre-tournament Class AAA poll, will host the Area 7 tournament today and Saturday in Ringgold, but to earn the area's top seed in next week's state duals in Macon, the Generals will have to defeat two-time defending dual and traditional state champion Gilmer County.
"We're ready to roll," Heritage coach Kenny Hill said. "We've wrestled a good schedule and our three losses have been to three very good teams. and only one of those [to Jefferson] wasn't as competitive as it should have been."
Heritage (33-3 in dual meets) boasts a lineup featuring 10 seniors, including 125-pound state champion Landon Reed and fellow veterans Andy Bratton, Madison Martin, Mike Shepard, Jacob Tripp and Logan Perkins. The Generals defeated Gilmer in the Smoky Mountain Duals, 36-21, and Hill said that result was no fluke.
"I believe we'll find out Saturday," Hill said of the likely championship-round matchup with the Bobcats. "We were both at full strength. I just think this is our year."
Gilmer, currently ranked No. 2, graduated five state medalists and has only four seniors in the lineup. However, talented wrestlers who could not crack the lineup in recent years are more than holding their own.
The Generals and Bobcats are the heavy favorites to earn 7-AAA's state duals berths, but the tournament has other ranked teams in Dalton and Southeast Whitfield, a much-improved Ringgold squad and perennial power LaFayette, which is going through a rare rebuilding season.
Holy Innocents' will be the site of the Area 1-A tournament, where 12 teams will vie for four state berths. Gordon Lee, currently ranked second to defending champion Bremen, has traversed the country in trying to prepare for the postseason. Trojans coach Brent Raby believes trips to Missouri and Kentucky have toughened his talented young squad.
"We're still trying to grow up, but from what I've seen I think they're ready," said Raby, whose team won a traditional tournament in Kentucky last week. "We've wrestled some good teams very close and we're as healthy as we've been all year. Really, we're as good as we want to be, and if the right team shows up we can beat anyone."
State champions Mika Clark, Alex Spires and Will Jacks head the Gordon Lee lineup that also includes veterans Ethan West, Shane Farmer and Corey Jewell in addition to standout freshman Jonny Ragsdale. Raby believes Holy Innocents' provides a stiff challenge and may indeed be the favorite.
"We've not faced them and we don't have any common opponents, but I've seen them and they can create some mismatches with us," Raby said. "They are solid throughout and they have an advantage in the bigger weights. It will be a strong challenge for us, but I think we're jelling right now."
Sonoraville will be the host for the Area 7-AA tournament, where first-year coach Steve Hamilton will try to get his young team back to the state tournament after a second-place finish last year in Macon. Rockmart and Calhoun are the top competition for the Firebirds.
Northwest Whitfield will compete in the Area 7-AAAA tournament at Lambert, where third-ranked Woodland and sixth-ranked Cass are the early favorites.