Forest Park wrestlers enjoy a light-hearted moment around the biggest prize — so far — in school history. The Panthers claimed the Area 4-AAAA championship, their first, with a 44-30 victory against defending area champion and top-seeded Lovejoy.
Forest Park and Locust Grove will go to the state duals wrestling competition with one thing in common: an area championship.
With eight wrestlers leading the way by going undefeated, Forest Park earned the Area 4-AAAA championship — the first area championship in school history — and will meet Southwest DeKalb in the first round of the state competition, which begins Friday in Macon.
The Panthers defeated top-seeded Lovejoy 44-30 in the final.
There was nothing surprising about Area 4-AAA, where favored Locust Grove claimed the title by defeating Eastside in the final.
Ola came up short in its area-championship bid against Whitewater in Area 3-AAAA, but beat back a challenge from Union Grove to secure a true second-place finish.
Forest Park coach Don Williams said last week he was expecting big things from Devontae Carter (138 pounds), Kyle Nelson (152), Tyrik Ball (160) and Leon Butts (182) — and none of them disappointed, each going 5-0.
But Forest Park got bonus contributions across the board, especially from Kevin Villalta (5-0 at 132) C.J. Dixon (4-0 as an undersized heavyweight), Jarius Leavy (3-0 at 220), Kyle Booker (4-1 at 126) and Blake Kennedy (4-1 at 170).
“I guess we’re peaking at the right time,” Williams said. “We were able to do some things we couldn’t have done before Thanksgiving. We hosted the Panther Duals and went 0-5. I have seven seniors and until this year, we’d never won a county tournament, an individual tournament or anything. It was emotional. There wasn’t a senior with a dry eye.”
Villalta’s run in the area duals was perhaps the most surprising — especially if your only memory of him was of the wrestler you might have seen at the beginning of the season.
“Kevin’s probably our most improved wrestler,” Williams said. “He’s coming from us shaking our head and yelling, ‘No! No! No!’ to where we’re saying, ‘Yep, yep, yep. Good job!’ ”
Locust Grove cruised to the Area 4-AAA title, defeating Eastside 43-31 in the final. From Eastside, the Wildcats will now go to Westside — the Augusta version — and will wrestle that team in the state duals’ first round.
Chaz Brown (152) and Tyler Rapes (195) each went undefeated to lead the Wildcats. Coach Nick Fordham said his younger wrestlers came through when the team unexpectedly lost battles in some weight classes.
“Some of our younger guys bailed out or older guys,” Fordham said. “The young guys, we put them through a tough schedule and they’re beginning to be seasoned a little bit. We had five freshmen in our lineup.”
Ola came up short against Whitewater in the Area 3-AAAA final, while Union Grove defeated Fayette County in a third-place match. Because Ola and Union Grove hadn’t wrestled each other during the tournament, and because the Wolverines had nothing to lose but another duals match, Union Grove challenged Ola to prove it was worthy of second place. The Mustangs responded with a 41-30 victory.
Jimmy Carman (195) and Peyton Durflinger (126) each went undefeated to lead Ola, which is making its first trip to state in three years.
“I’m excited for this young group,” Ola coach Joey DiNino said. “For myself, this is a big step in the right direction for our program.”
State Duals Championships
Southern Crescent qualifiers: Forest Park (won Area 4-AAAA), Lovejoy (second in Area 4-AAAA), Locust Grove (won Area 4-AAA) and Ola (second in Area 3-AAAA).
When, where: Friday and Saturday at the Macon Centreplex
First-round pairings: Forest Park vs. Southwest DeKalb; Locust Grove vs. Westside-Augusta; Ola vs. Lee County; Lovejoy vs. Ware County.