7-AAAA at Gilmer County
2-AAA at Central-Carroll
3-AA at Murray County
3-A at Mount Zion, Carroll
When the smoke clears following the conclusion of the Georgia Area 7-AAAA traditional wrestling tournament at Gilmer County on Saturday, two things will be clear according to coaches involved.
One, the 11-team tournament again is the toughest Class AAAA event in the state. As a result, several state-worthy wrestlers will be left home for next week's sectional round.
"It's going to be brutal," LaFayette coach Keith Mariakis said. "A lot of good kids, kids that could easily place at the state level, will stay home after this week."
The top four placers in each weight class advance to the sectional round, where it takes just one individual match win to qualify for the state field in two weeks in Macon. With quality wrestlers filling out each bracket in 7-AAAA, the goal for teams with state-title aspirations is to survive.
Tough as it is, though, the state champion has come from this group of schools (most were Class AAA before last year's reclassification) in six of the past nine seasons, including last season when Heritage claimed its first traditional title. Gilmer County coach Sam Snider believes his top-ranked team is in good shape, barring upsets.
"We should be able to get 13 of our 14 wrestlers qualified for the sectional, definitely 11," Snider said. "There are going to be some very good weight classes, so the kids will have to take care of their business. To me, the overall depth of the region isn't as strong as it was last year just because Heritage and LaFayette graduated some great kids, but it's still tough."
One of the best battles will be at 113 pounds, where Gilmer's defending state champion Daniel Bautista has moved down from 120 and joins LaFayette's Caleb Mariakis, Southeast Whitfield's Omar Ruiz and Heritage freshman Isaiah Knight. At 220, there are six quality wrestlers, headed by Southeast Whitfield's Carlos Fraire and Dalton defending state champion Sydney Wheeler.
"All four of the kids that make it out of 220 will place at the state, and two others that don't qualify could have," Coach Mariakis said. "Now, there is the possibility some guys move up to heavyweight, so we'll see. Our expectations are to hopefully get eight or nine out of the area and we'll be all right, but that's going to be tough.
"That's what gets you. Nothing against the other regions, but we beat each other up every year. I still think Gilmer will get 10 to 13 in, but it won't be easy."
For those who do make it out of the area, statistics are on their side to make the state.
"The Allatoona coach told me last year when they were in this area that if a kid makes it out of this area they have a 92 percent chance of moving on to the state," Southeast coach Michael Herndon said. "That shows you how tough this area is."