Sometimes wrestling is as much about survival as it is winning. Often a team will have to do the first before it can do the latter in a dual-meet tournament.
As the postseason begins in Georgia with area duals today and Saturday, survival means earning a berth in next week's state duals any way a team can. The No. 2 spot from an area gets the same opportunity as the area champion, an important fact when analyzing the Area 7-AAAA field.
This weekend's event at Cedartown High School has a prohibitive favorite in Gilmer County, the defending state champion and consensus top-ranked squad in the class. The Bobcats return a team loaded with experience and talent. Wrestlingusa.com ranks Sam Snider's team as the fifth-best among all Georgia teams.
As much as area coaches hate to concede anything, most believe Gilmer will be difficult to defeat. Given that, 10 teams likely will be fighting for one state berth, and those include three ranked in the top 10 in AAAA: Heritage (No. 5), Cedartown (No. 8) and Dalton (No. 9). Also included are the traditionally strong LaFayette, Cass and Northwest Whitfield programs and a Southeast Whitfield team that may have its best collection of talent in years.
In other words, nothing will come easily for any team looking to move on after Saturday.
"Gilmer is very strong with a lot of kids back, and everyone knows they will be tough," said Heritage first-year coach Mike Craft, whose Generals lost to the Bobcats earlier this season. "It's going to be tough, but you never say it can't happen. The big thing is we can't afford to overlook anyone. It's a good tournament."
The Generals need only to look back a year ago to see how important survival is. Heritage defeated Gilmer to win the area title only to see the Bobcats turn the tables the next week in the state finals.
It's something LaFayette coach Keith Mariakis teaches to a young Ramblers squad seeking to return to the state field for the first time in three years.
"Gilmer, I think, is just a little better than everybody else, but even if no one can beat them there is another spot open," said Mariakis, whose unranked team goes into the tournament seeded third behind Gilmer and Heritage. "We're just hoping to compete and have a good showing and then see what happens."
The tournament begins at 4 today with two rounds and continues Saturday with the semifinals at 10 a.m.
Of the 13 teams in the Area 2-AAA tournament at North Murray, only Adairsville (No. 10) is ranked. Sonoraville, Ringgold, Gordon Central and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe are among those hoping to garner one of the four state berths up for grabs.
Calhoun, Westminster, Wesleyan and host Lovett are the favorites at the Area 3-AA tournament, where 12 teams will be battling for four state berths. The field also includes Murray County, Dade County and Chattooga.
The Area 3-A tournament at Darlington will be held in its entirety Saturday. Top-ranked Gordon Lee is the favorite, though Mount Zion (Carroll) and Darlington are ranked fifth and sixth.