A week after focusing on individual achievement at the Gwinnett County Championship meet, the county’s high school wrestling teams shift their focus to the more team-oriented goals as the dual-meet postseason begins Saturday with region and area duals at various sites.
With only two slots from each region or area (depending on classification) for the state duals up for grabs, finding the right matchup for a potential opponent is imperative for any team looking to survive and advance.
How tough that task is depends on the circumstances an individual team faces.
For example, as talented as a team like Buford — which has top-five finishes in state duals the past six seasons, including three titles and two runner-up finishes — can have issues in setting its lineup despite having a host of dynamic wrestles like recently-crowned county champions like Nick Stonecheck, Blaine Bergey and Evan DiMaggio, and other big-time individuals like nationally ranked Charlie Darracott.
Injuries that have sidelined talented sophomore Talen Thompson and have made junior Nick Cambria’s status uncertain have coach Tom Beuglas looking to shuffle his lineup somewhat.
And it’s not as easy a task as one might think, even with the Wolves’ depth.
‘The kid who got second at 126 at county, Tyler Henley, he’s (normally) our 113,” explained Beuglas, whose Wolves were runners-up in the team standings in last weekend’s county meet. “He went up two weight classes and still got second. When he gets to 113 at state (traditional), he’ll (have a chance to) win state. But he’s having a hard time making that weight (right now). And at 120, Nick Cambria’s real good. So Henley’s either got to go up or go down, but I’m not going to try to get him down (to 113) until the very end (of the season).
“I was going to put a ninth-grader (in at 113) this weekend, but (Wednesday) in the ninth-grade meet, my ninth-grader hurt his knee. So we may not have a 113 at all this weekend. … So we’ve still got a couple of holes.”
Still, the Wolves are among the favorites to take the title at the Region 8-AAAAA duals Saturday at Johnson-Gainesville, which would also gain them the region’s top seed in state duals next weekend.
And while qualifying for state as a runner-up gives a team a chance at that title, seeding matters, and few coaches understand that better than Collins Hill’s Nate Ethridge, who boasts an even deeper roster that includes county champions Lucas DeSilva, Joey Felix, Clint Gilbert, Powell Gilbert and Elijah Griffin.
The Eagles were edged by Mountain View 36-33 in the finals of last year’s Region 6-AAAAAAA duals thanks to a pin by Garrett Spikes in the final match, despite the fact that the two teams actually split the 14 individual matches.
As a result, they wound up with a much tougher draw in the state duals, including having to face eventual champion Camden County in the semifinals instead of the championship dual.
After that experience, and the fact the Eagles came up a point short to AAAAAA power Creekview in the finals of the Kyle Maynard Duals late last month despite taking eight of the 14 matches in the finals, Ethridge is confident the Eagles now understand that bonus points for major decisions, technical falls and pins, as well as avoiding giving up those bonuses in losses, matter a lot.
“We always have our pulse on the state, but our focus is on Saturday,” said Ethridge, whose team is fresh off last weekend’s county title and will challenge Mountain View and the rest of the Region 6-AAAAAAAA in this year’s duals Saturday at Discovery. “We did not do our job (in region duals) last year, and we wrestled Camden County in the semifinals (in state duals as a result). We want to be in a position where we’re wrestling on Saturday night (for the title), and we have to do a better job this year than we did last year (in order to be in that position). We lost (to Mountain View last year), and it was a 7-7 dual. We won seven (matches), and they outbonused. That’s one of the things we’ve addressed (since) losing to Creekview after winning eight matches (at the Kyle Maynard Duals last month).
“That (loss) could end up being the best thing that happened to us. The kids understand that there’s a difference between duals and traditional tournaments. You have to do your job. You have to be willing to go out and sacrifice and compete and not give up bonus (points).”
Several other Gwinnett teams will be in action Saturday at both the Region 7-AAAAAAA duals at Parkview and 8-AAAAAAA duals at Rockdale County.
Meanwhile, Dacula and Lanier will compete in the Region 8-AAAAAA duals at Gainesville, Greater Atlanta Christian will be in action in the Area 5-AAA duals at Dawson County and Wesleyan will be at the Area 5-A duals at St. Francis.