One day can make or break a wrestling team's season, and Saturday is that day in Georgia.
Area dual tournaments will fill out next week's GHSA Duals Championships field in Macon, and several northwest Georgia teams have visions of podium finishes. Two of those programs, Northwest Whitfield and Gordon Lee, will have to survive in battle-tested areas where one poor match could spell doom.
Northwest finished third in last season's Area 7-AAAA duals, one spot short of qualifying for Macon, but coach Alan Tucker doesn't hesitate to say the Bruins are ready to take the next step. Of course, winning the area title still involves host Gilmer County, the reigning state champion.
Saturday's GHSA Area Duals
7-AAAAA at Cambridge
7-AAAA at Gilmer County
6-AAA at Murray County
3-AA at Gordon Lee
3-A at Mt. Zion, Carroll
"You have to go through Gilmer to win it," Tucker said. "They reload every year, and they've got several studs as usual."
The Bobcats are undefeated in region play and own a 40-18 win over the Bruins, Northwest's lone league loss. If the two meet again Saturday it will be a different-looking lineup for Tucker's team, which is 13-1 in its last three dual tournaments.
"When we wrestled them the first time we weren't in our weight classes," Tucker said. "We're wrestling pretty good right now and I like the way we're practicing. It's just a matter of, in any dual match, they've got five kids that are top three (in the state in Class AAAA) and you just can't get pinned in those matches and give up six points. We know what they like to do, so it comes down to do we have the will to keep them from doing it?"
The Bruins aren't loaded with potential state champions, but they are tough throughout the lineup and are finally healthy. Tucker expects past state champions Heritage and LaFayette to be in the hunt as well.
For Gordon Lee, the perennial state Class A power is hosting the Area 3-AA tournament after moving up in classification this year. A familiar foe awaits in Holy Innocents' as well as private school power Lovett. The tournament, originally set to open today, has moved to a one-day event after Dade County, Darlington and Coosa elected not to send teams.
The host Trojans likely will get the top seeding in today's meeting, although coach Brent Raby isn't sure they deserve it.
"I think we're the underdogs because we're moving up a classification and we're relying on several freshmen," Raby said. "However, moving up didn't hurt Bremen or Jefferson, so I don't think it's a huge jump for us. When we're on, we're on, but when we're bad we're bad. Wrestling at home should help us."
While several Trojans are ranked on a state level -- including Nick Wilson, Sydny Rhinehart, Stihl Lance, Zack Murdock, Wyatt Shepard and three-time champion Jonathan Ragsdale -- winning Saturday likely will come down to how a handful of talented freshmen handle their first taste of a prep postseason.
First-year starters Jarrett Lasseter, Braden Jarvis, Jaredn Spradlin and Caleb Vines won't necessarily have to win their matches, but they must avoid losing bonus points, a key for any successful duals team.
"Sometimes it's about minimizing collateral damage and limiting your losses," Raby said. "If you're going to lose, do so respectably. I've wrestled these freshmen a lot this season for a reason. If those kids come out and lose respectably we'll be all right, and if they knock off a few we'll be real tough."
Among other area teams with high hopes this weekend are Sonoraville, Ringgold and North Murray in the 6-AAA tournament at Murray County and surging Trion in the 3-A tournament at Mt. Zion, Carroll.
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.