Photo by Heather Middleton
By Brian Paglia
Kevin McGonigle has spent much of the wrestling season escorting his Union Grove team to tournaments across Georgia, from Kennesaw to Mount Airy, from Covington to Suwanee.
But when the Class AAAA state duals begin today, the Wolverines won't have to go far.
The tournament was originally scheduled for the Macon Centreplex on Jan. 14-15, but weather forced the Georgia High School Association to reschedule the event for this weekend at multiple sites. Locust Grove will host AAA, while Ola will host AAAA.
With two classifications of the state duals in Henry County, McGonigle said local teams won't have to deal with travel issues that other teams must endure.
"It's tough to compete when you've got to stay in hotels, eat out instead of mom's home cooking. It makes it kind of tough," McGonigle said.
"We're really pleased that the state championship is here in Henry County."
Fives teams from the Southern Crescent qualified for the state duals. In AAA, Henry County will face Westside-Augusta, and Locust Grove will face Heritage-Catoosa. In AAAA, Mundy's Mill faces Woodland-Cartersville, Lovejoy faces reigning champion Alexander, and Union Grove faces Effingham County.
After finishing second to Pope in the traditional state tournament last week, Union Grove appears to be the Southern Crescent's best chance for a state champion. The Wolverines had four state-placers, including state champions in Griffin Higgonbotham (103 pounds) and Alex Lazor (135), to tally 90.5 team points, well behind Pope's 136.5 points.
But Union Grove managed its second runner-up finish in school history with just five wrestlers at the traditional tournament. The Wolverines spent the weeks leading up to the state tournament hampered by injuries and sickness. McGonigle said the team wasn't at full strength until sectionals were done.
During that time, Union Grove had disappointing finishes in tournaments they were favored to win. The Wolverines finished third behind Henry County and Ola at the county championship, then finished third again behind Ola and Whitewater at the Area 3-AAAA traditional tournament.
But McGonigle said Union Grove is rejuvenated after its runner-up finish at the traditional state tournament, and eager for another shot at Pope with its team at full strength.
"We fought through a lot of injury and sickness at the area and county tournaments," McGonigle said. "Other teams were able to beat us. We just weren't at full strength.
"I don't think I've ever seen a group of kids more focused on one goal, and that's winning it all Saturday. If these kids wrestle the way they're capable of wrestling ... we could clean up. They're ready and they're focused."