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Locust Grove, Forest Park lead charge into wrestling sectionals

Special Photo
Forest Park is led by its senior wrestlers — (from left) Kevin Villalta, Jarius Leavy, Leon Butts, Devontae Carter, Kyle Nelson, Kyle Booker and (kneeling in front) Tyrik Ball. All are going to the sectionals with Leavy, who finished fifth in the 220-pound class, serving in the role of alternate.

Special Photo Forest Park is led by its senior wrestlers — (from left) Kevin Villalta, Jarius Leavy, Leon Butts, Devontae Carter, Kyle Nelson, Kyle Booker and (kneeling in front) Tyrik Ball. All are going to the sectionals with Leavy, who finished fifth in the 220-pound class, serving in the role of alternate.

Locust Grove, Forest Park, Ola and Morrow are the Southern Crescent schools sending at least 10 wrestlers on to the sectional rounds of the traditional tournament across the state this coming weekend.

Locust Grove will have 13 wrestlers, including five area champions and four runners-up, in the Class AAA East Sectional at West Laurens Friday and Saturday after running away with the Area 3-AAA tournament it hosted over the weekend.

Forest Park will send 11 — four champions and two runners-up in that number — to the Class AAAA West Sectional at Northside-Columbus after adding the Area 4-AAAA crown to its ever-expanding trophy case. The Panthers have now won area duals, the county championship and area traditional in the same season for the first time.

“We’re just real happy over here at the Park,” coach Don Williams said Monday. “We feel like Forest Park is the best-kept secret in the county.”

The Panthers won’t be secrets long if they keep getting the kind of performances turned in by Blake Kennedy at 170, Leon Butts at 182, Kevin Villalta at 132 and Devontae Carter at 138. All won their weight classes.

Morrow, which finished third in that area tournament, will send 10 wrestlers to the same sectional. Ola likewise will send 10 to the Class AAAA East Sectional at Loganville.

Lovejoy and Locust Grove will send the most area champions — guys who won their weight classes. Lovejoy, which finished second to Forest Park by only nine points, will send weight-class champions Nathaniel Norwood (195), Corey Alexander (152), Cassius Williams (113), Michael Whitney (120) and Derek Holmes (145).

Locust Grove will send area weight-class champions Tyler Rapes (195), Emilio Conde (160), Chaz Brown (152), Dillon Palmer (132) and Peter Baus (126). However, it was a wrestler finishing second in his class, Brandon Benson, who thrilled coach Nick Fordham.

“I’m excited about our guy at 145,” Fordham said. “I get excited about our young guys. The veterans are programmed to do what they do, but I’m excited to see a guy transition from rookie to seasoned wrestler.”

Benson hung in with Stockbridge’s area champion, Shakeno Jenkins, into the third period before Jenkins won.

Likewise, Ola had a few surprises. While Jimmy Carman (195), Hunter Hogan (113) won their classes, coach Joey DiNino was pleasantly surprised by the performances of Stephen Hill at 285, Aaron Branch at 160 and Ean Wilson at 138.

“I was happy for Stephen Hill, for him to punch his ticket to sectionals — that was a pleasant surprise,” DiNino said. “Aaron Branch, who had been on the JV for much of the year, punched his ticket at 160. And Ean Wilson had been having a tough season and he was able to have a good showing. Those were kids on the bubble.”

Eagle’s Landing and Drew each will send eight on to the sectionals, with Xavier Fye of Eagle’s Landing representing the only weight class champion. He won at 182. Jacob Peters turned in Drew’s top performance, finishing runner-up to Rapes at 195.

Jonesboro will send six to the sectionals, with Scott Coleman (126) and Jalaal Malik (106) having won their area divisions.

Union Grove also will send six, with Tyler Buhse (220), Hunter Gamble (160) and defending state champion Griffin Higginbotham (120) having won their area weight classes.

Union Grove coach Kevin McGonigle will have only two seniors, but noted the way his underclassmen wrestled. “We’re young,” he said. “We’re real young.”

Stockbridge will send five to the sectionals, with Jenkins and Thomas Daniels (170) winning their area weight classes.

Mundy’s Mill will send five to the sectionals, with 220-pound champion Benard Williams leading the way.

Henry County will send three, but its two biggest guys — Dalvin Tomlinson at heavyweight and Terrance Waugh at 220 — as area champions.

STATE SECTIONALS

When: Friday and Saturday.

Where: Southern Crescent teams will be at Northside-Columbus, Loganville and West Laurens this weekend.

Who: For classes AA through AAAAA, the top eight wrestlers in each weight class will qualify for the state tournament, which will be held Feb. 16-18 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. For Class A, the top four in each weight class qualify.