Sunday May 29th, 2016 4:11AM

Wrestlers battle for titles; basketball goes to region tourneys; spring kicking off

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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Last week provided plenty of fireworks for area athletes, as Paul Powers and North Hall paced an astounding performance for area swimmers in the state championship meet in Atlanta. (Click here for a look at Saturday's swimming and diving championships.)

This week promises plenty more excitement, as the GHSA traditional wrestling championships and region basketball tournaments get underway -- not to mention spring sports, including soccer, tennis and track, will get kick off.

Seventy-nine wrestlers from area programs battled their way through this past weekend's state sectionals into this weekend's championship bracket -- which will take place beginning on Thursday in Macon.

As may be expected, Jefferson dominated in the sectional tournament, leading all area programs by placing 12 wrestlers in this weekend's championships -- out of a possible 14. The Dragons are gunning their for their 13th straight team title.

Meanwhile, Banks County, Commerce, Chestatee and Flowery Branch also enjoyed strong sectional tournaments, sending eight wrestlers on to the finals, while North Hall qualified five individuals. Buford, Jackson County and Lumpkin County will also send four grapplers to Macon, while White County and Dawson County qualified three apiece. Wrestlers from East Hall, Johnson and Stephens County will also compete, along with competitors from East Jackson, Fannin County, Gainesville, Towns County and West Hall.

Wrestling will begin on Thursday for programs in Class AAAA-AAAAAA, with A-AAA commencing on Friday at the Macon Centreplex. (Click here for full brackets and information.)

There will be no state championships handed out in basketball, but there will be plenty up for grabs -- including region titles and state tournament seeding -- this week on the area's hardwood.

Regions 8-A, 8-AA, 7-AAA, 8-AAAA and 8-AAAAA will crown champions at various venues (see below for tournament sites), and there are storylines aplenty, as we begin the final phase of the basketball season.

While Buford's boys and girls basketball programs deservedly earned the plaudits throughout the 2012-13 season, North Hall's boys showed last week that they must be considered amongst the top contenders in Class AAA, as the Trojans knocked off the Wolves in Buford and won an ensuing coin toss to decide the top seed for Region 7-AAA. North Hall will play host to three rounds of the 7-AAA tournament, including the semifinals and championship round -- though the Trojans will be eagerly awaiting to see if senior standout Ethan "Ebo" Smith will be available after suffering a head injury in the 68-63 win at Buford.

Both Wolves programs will be heavily favored to reach the championship round, along with the Dawson County girls, who are the No. 2 seed in 7-AAA. The Dawson County boys and Banks County girls have also enjoyed strong seasons, while the East Hall boys and North Hall boys are looking to get back into the state playoffs -- though they will face tough roads to that end in a balanced field.

Meanwhile, in Region 8-AAAA, the top-seeded Johnson boys will play host to the field and look to wrap up the No. 1 postseason spot after dominating much of the season in league play and storming to the No. 1 seed. The Chestatee girls, despite one stumble, will look to do the same.

In 8-AAAAA, the Flowery Branch girls held court throughout the campaign, falling just once -- and that was after the Lady Falcons had wrapped up the top seed. Flowery Branch will look to maintain that control this week at Apalachee High in Bethlehem, looking to send a historic senior class out with a bang. Meanwhile, the Gainesville boys overcame a slow start to streak down the stretch and earn a top seed. Todd Cottrell's Red Elephants could well face Flowery Branch in their first region playoff game -- a rivalry that the two foes split during the regular season -- and there should be plenty of intrigue between a ridiculously close group of teams.

In Region 8-A, Lakeview Academy's boys sealed up the top seed from 8-A, North, and will look to make the most of that spot when tournament play begins at Towns County High in Hiawassee. The Lions are looking to send coach Seth Vining out on a high note in his final season after announcing his retirement. Meanwhile, quarterfinal hosts Towns County girls will look to maintain their dominance and look ahead to the state postseason.

If the regular season is anything to go by, the 8-AA postseason tournament should be interesting indeed. The region required a draw out of a hat to separate the top seed, and the Union County girls will look to make the most of their No. 1 position when play kicks off at Greene County High.

And while all that is going on tennis, track and soccer will all get underway in earnest this week, with baseball and golf not far behind.

Keep an eye on Access North this week to keep up with the wide-ranging and intriguing storylines sure to crop up throughout a crowded schedule.

8-A -- Play-ins and quarterfinals at Towns County: semifinals and finals/third place games at Hebron Christian
8-AA -- At Greene County High
7-AAA -- quarterfinals at North Hall and Buford boys; Buford and Dawson County girls; semifinals and finals/third place games at North Hall
8-AAAA -- At Johnson High
8-AAAAA -- At Apalachee High
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