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Southern Crescent: a wrestling hotbed

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Brian Paglia

bpaglia@news-daily.com

Henry County and Union Grove's fourth-place finish Saturday at the State Duals in Class AAA and AAAA, respectively, was a fitting end to the Southern Crescent's high school wrestling season.

By virtue of the area's seven state champions, 25 state-placers, four top-10 traditional teams and two top-4 state duals teams, the Southern Crescent certainly made its presence known in the landscape of Georgia high school wrestling.

"We definitely have some depth, particularly in Henry County," Locust Grove coach Nick Fordham said. "We can compete with any county as far as wrestling goes. You look at Union Grove, Ola, Henry County and us, those are all top-5 programs.

"I think Henry County is starting to be recognized as one of the wrestling powerhouse counties in the state."

Here is a look back at the 2010-11 wrestling season in the Southern Crescent.

Top wrestler: Such a tough call considering the depth of wrestling talent in the Southern Crescent, but there's no denying what Dalvin Tomlinson of Henry County has accomplished.

The Warhawks junior heavyweight was a perfect 60-0 on his way to winning his second state title by pin over Columbus' Jamie Starke. That extended Tomlinson's consecutive-win streak to 115 matches.

Next season, Tomlinson could become Georgia's first-ever three-time heavyweight state champion.

Best wrestler to not win a state title: Justin Kerce, Woodland. The senior was the top seed at 125 pounds with a 65-1 record going into the traditional state tournament. But Kerce lost to Cody Phillips of Madison County in the second round and fell into the consolation bracket.

Kerce rebounded, dominating his four opponents on the way to a third-place finish to finish with a 70-2 record.

Top team: Union Grove. The Wolverines brought back 13 of 14 starters, but not the head coach that had led the program from its beginning in 2000. Long-time coach Joey DiNino went to Ola. In came Kevin McGonigle.

But Union Grove didn't miss a beat. Yes, the Wolverines stumbled through injuries and sickness during the county and area traditional tournaments, but they also won the South Metro Invitational, finished fourth at the State Duals and second to Pope at the traditional state meet.

Best match: Giovonte Ortiz (Lovejoy) vs. Jake Hensen (Pope). One had torn ligaments in his elbow and the chance to become his school's first state champion. One was a phenom freshman from one of the state's juggernaut programs.

Ortiz wasn't his usual self. Though his left elbow had a sophisticated wrap to help stabilize his arm, Ortiz couldn't use many of his patent judo throwing moves that made him one of the most versatile and formidable wrestlers in the state.

Instead, the senior 140-pounder relied on shear grit and determination for a 3-2 decision over Hensen to become the Wildcats first-ever state champion.