Forest Park coach Don Williams said his team was “ecstatic” at recording the school’s first area championship and its first trip to the state duals tournament. But now, he says, “It’s time for us to come back down to Earth.”
The team dual wrestling state championship begins today in Macon, with two Southern Crescent area champions and a pair of runners-up ready to hit the mats.
Forest Park, the first-time Area 4-AAAA champion, and Locust Grove, the Area 4-AAA champ, made their way to the Macon Centreplex on Thursday for weigh-ins. They were joined by Area 4-AAAA runner-up Lovejoy and Area 3-AAAA runner-up Ola.
Forest Park was so eager to get down there, the Panthers went early and held their practice on site.
“This is all brand new for them,” Forest Park coach Don Williams said Thursday. “They’re real ecstatic, but now it’s time for us to come back down to Earth.”
The Panthers will meet Southwest DeKalb in the first round of the double-elimination tournament. Locust Grove takes on Westside-Augusta, Lovejoy meets Ware County and Ola will wrestle against Lee County.
Locust Grove enters the tournament full of optimism.
“Obviously, our goal is to bring home some hardware,” Locust Grove coach Nick Fordham said. “Wrestling is one of those sports where you get out of it what you put into it.”
The Wildcats are in one of the two most competitive classes — where one team hasn’t won three years in a row. Collins Hill has ruled Class AAAAA for the last four years and is the unquestioned favorite again this weekend.
Jefferson has won 10 consecutive duals championships, but has been in Class AA only the last three years. When Jefferson moved out of Class A after winning seven straight years, it created an opening for Bremen to win the last three titles in the smallest classification.
Classes AAA and AAAA, however, are more wide-open. Gilmer has won the last two AAA crowns, but isn’t the favorite this time — an honor that now rests with Heritage-Catoosa.
“We’re the No. 4 seed, and if all goes as planned we should be in the semis, the top six for sure,” Fordham said.
Pope, which has won five straight area championships (in classes AAAAA and AAAA), is considered the Class AAAA favorite. Still, Class AAAA should be considered even more wide-open than AAA. The last six years have seen six different champions in the state’s second-largest classification.
So, even though by virtue of entering the tournament as area runners-up they are considered underdogs, Lovejoy and Ola are underdogs in the least predictable classes.
Lovejoy, a team deep in experience, will go into the tournament with a chip on its collective shoulder, having something to prove after being dethroned by Forest Park.
Ola, a team on the other end of the experience spectrum with eight first-year starters, will have to grow up quickly to contend with a historically strong Lee County squad.
TEAM DUALS WRESTLING STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
When, where: Today and Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.
Local entries and matchups: Forest Park vs. Southwest DeKalb, 10:15 a.m. on Mat 4; Locust Grove vs. Westside-Augusta, 10:15 a.m. on Mat 2; Lovejoy vs. Ware County, 8:30 a.m. on Mat 4; Ola vs. Lee County, 10:15 a.m. on Mat 5.
Top Southern Crescent wrestlers (and weight classes): Forest Park — Tyrik Ball (160), Leon Butts (182), Devontae Carter (138), Kyle Nelson (152); Locust Grove — Jarred Benefield (138), Chaz Brown (152), Dillon Palmer (126); Lovejoy — Corey Alexander (152), Shavar Guyton (220), Derek Holmes (145), Xavier Hutchison (126), Nathaniel Norwood (195), Michael Whitney (120), Cassius Williams (113); Ola — Jimmy Carman (195), Peyton Durflinger (126), Hunter Hogan (195), Omar McFarlane (106), Dylan Parker (170).