As the 2014 State Duals get set to begin Thursday, northeast Georgia will once again be well represented at the Macon Coliseum.
The three-day meet will begin with opening round matches in Class AAAAAA, Class AAAAA, and Class AAAA on Thursday in 16-team brackets. Opening round matches for Class AAA, Class AA, and Class A will begin on Friday with eight-team brackets.
Jefferson (Class AA) and Banks County (Class AAA) return to try and defend state titles while Commerce (Class A) looks to improve on a third-place finish in 2013.
All teams got a bit of good news on Tuesday when the GHSA announced that a one-pound allowance would be allowed due the frigid weather conditions.
The Duals are different from the traditional tournament. Teams need depth and not giving up what coaches call "bonus" points (pins and technical falls) are the key to advancing.
Six points are awarded for a pin, five for a technical fall, four for a major decision and three points for a victory of seven points or less in each individual match.
"You can't get pinned," Flowery Branch coach Shane Millwood said. "If you have a guy get pinned and lose by two or three points, that extra three points would have been the difference in winning or losing. But depth is also a key. You can't have any holes, especially when you get to the later rounds against the real powerhouses."
Commerce coach Kendall Love believes his Tigers, who are the No. 2 seed behind defending state champion Gordon Lee, have a strong shot at bringing home their first-ever Duals title.
"Last year we gave up 18 points because we had three open slots. This year, all of our holes have been filled and with quality wrestlers," Love said. "I expect some big things for us."
Commerce not only is talented but young with five freshmen in the starting lineup.
"These guys have come up through the system and have a lot of tournament experience despite being their first year on varsity," Love said. "I can't wait to see how they do."
However, senior Chance McClure (220-pounds) leads the way for Commerce. The three-time state champion and Fargo National Champion, who has signed with Virginia, is undefeated on the season.
Freshman Dalton Flint (106) is also undefeated on the season. Freshman Cole Chancey (138) and senior Morgan Flint (195) each have lost just once.
Commerce lost by 15 to eventual state champion Gordon Lee in the semifinals a year ago but Love is hoping for a different outcome this time around.
"If we had those three spots filled last year it may have been a different outcome," Love said. "We feel like we have a real shot to win it all and we're going down there with that attitude."
The Tigers open against Strong Rock with a 1:15 p.m. match on Friday.
Lumpkin County, coming off its first-ever Area 8-AAAA championship, is set for some big things as well in Class AAAA.
Sixth-year head coach Brian Matthews said the Indians have their minds set on nothing short of a title.
"We know nobody says anything about us but that is the way we like it," Matthews said. "This is the first year we have a solid lineup all the way through."
The Indians (27-3) will open against Upson-Lee on Thursday and a win could set up a second-round match-up against powerful second-seeded Alexander, which finished second last year.
Lumpkin County has a solid lineup, anchored by returning state champ at 113, Greg Hilliard, who has moved up to 132 this year.
The Indians finished in the top 12 last year after falling to eventual state champion Gilmer in the first round. Chestatee will also be competing in the Class AAAA meet again this year. The War Eagles finished in the top 10 last year, including a win over Lumpkin County.
Flowery Branch is back in the Class AAAAA meet this year after finishing what Millwood said was a "disappointing" 12th in last year's Duals.
The Falcons open against Effingham County, a team they lost to in the consolation bracket last season. The match is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Millwood said they are expecting a different outcome this time around.
"We feel like we match up with them pretty good," Millwood said. "I think we're a more solid team this year and we're going down there looking for big things."
Flowery Branch has a solid lineup, particularly in the middle-weights. Nolan Alspach (126), Brady Dyer (145), and Zach Winter (152) have been tough all season. Grant Simonds (182) and Davante King (220) give the Falcons a good core in the upper-weights and Ronny Link (113) anchors the lower weights.
"All six of those guys have a chance to win every time they hit the mat," Millwood said. "If they wrestle to their abilities I like our chances. I feel we're a top six team and hopefully we can show that."
In Class AAA, second-year coach Rob Carlyle is guiding Buford, the Area 4-AAA runner-up, into the Duals for the first time. The Wolves open the tournament on Friday against Sonoraville.
A state title run by the football team hampered the Wolves (17-10) early but Carlyle said they are hitting their stride at the perfect time.
"For the first time our team may be at full strength," he said. "Guys that were on the football team have returned to wrestling shape and we have finally shaken the injury bug."
Chip Ness, who is undefeated throughout his career, leads Buford.
Banks County, the defending Class AAA Duals state champion, will be back to defend its title after winning the Area 4-AAA championship. The Leopards won a thriller last year beating Woodward Academy 34-33 in the finals.
Banks County will open this year's Duals against Blessed Trinity on Friday. The Leopards are the top seed and favored to repeat as champions.
In Class AAAAAA, North Forsyth (34-5) comes into the Duals as the No. 2 seed behind defending state champion Archer.
Raiders' coach Travis Jarrod said they have been solid all season and are looking to make a splash this year. They went 2-2 and finished in the top eight in last year's meet.
"We got off to a quick start this year and they are locked in and ready to go," Jarrod said.
Leading the way for North Forsyth is Luke Slaton, who placed fifth at state last year, and Austin Thornton, who has won 35 of his 37 matches this season.
North Forsyth takes on Marietta in the opening round on Thursday.
Jefferson in Class AA is once-again the overwhelming favorite to repeat as champion. The Dragons rolled to their 13th Duals state title last year with a dominating win over Bremen.
Jefferson opens the tournament against Pepperell on Friday.