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Monday February 20th, 2017 1:18AM

Area teams ready to grapple for Area Duals titles

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

Northeast Georgia's wrestling teams will turn their attention to Area Duals beginning Friday, and new classifications and region alignments should make for some interesting, and challenging, tournaments.

The top two finishers from each Area Duals advance to the State Duals, which are set for Jan. 12-14 at the Macon Centreplex.

Area competitions were originally scheduled for Friday and Saturday. (EDITOR'S NOTE:  As of Thursday, the following events have been altered or postponed due to winter weather: (Events listed alphabetically, in bold)

  • The Area 4-A Duals wrestling tournament will be held at St. Francis and will be held all day on Friday beginning at 10:30 a.m.
  • The Area 4-AA Duals wrestling tournament will be held at Elbert County and will be held all day on Friday beginning at 1 p.m.
  • The Area 4-AAA Duals wrestling tournament, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Dawson County, has been moved to Monday (Jan. 9) and Tuesday (Jan. 10) also at Dawson County. The schedule for each day has not yet been provided.
  • The Area 7-AAAA wrestling tournament will be a one-day event held at Chestatee and has been moved to Tuesday with a 2:30 p.m. start time.
  • The Area 8-AAAAA wrestling tournament has been changed to a one-day event on Friday beginning at 9 a.m. at Walnut Grove High School.
  • The Area 8-AAAAAA Duals wrestling tournament has been postponted. Wrestling has been moved to Monday (Jan. 9) at Gainesville High.

Commerce is the three-time defending state champion in Class A, while Jefferson is gunning for its 16th straight state duals crown after claiming the Class AAA title in 2016. 

Class AAAA should draw plenty of attention in 2017. The Dragons, who have claimed every state duals title since the format was created in 2002, spanning three classifications, moved up to Class AAAA in the realignment. Four-time defending state champion Gilmer is still in Class AAAA, however, and the Bobcats have won seven straight duals titles overall (they won three straight in Class AAA). One of those streaks will come to an end. And if both teams make the finals fans will expect an epic showdown.

Yet the Dragons -- like every other team in northeast Georgia -- must qualify for state first this weekend, and there could be plenty of speed bumps in the way.

The Area 4-AAA Duals, which has 13 teams overall, including Dawson County, East Hall, East Jackson, Fannin County, Jackson County, Lumpkin County, North Hall, and Union County could certainly provide plenty of twists and turns. The tournamemnt will take place at Dawson County and could prove one of the premier Area Duals in the state across all classifications.

Lumpkin County and Jackson County are considered early favorites, but North Hall, host Dawson County, Franklin County, and Morgan County also harbor plenty of state hopes of their own.

North Hall coach David Nichols, who guided the Trojans to a Hall County Championship last month, said every match will be important. North Hall finished third in Class AAAA in the 2016 state duals.

“It’s going to be a meat-grinder,” Nichols said. “There are five or six teams that can legitimately make the top two. There are going to be some really good teams that don’t make it.”

Nichols added that bonus points will be the key to advancing.

“You have to grab those bonus points -- pins, technical falls, major decisions -- and not give up the bonus points,” he said. “This will be the hardest year to qualify for the state duals in my time of coaching wrestling.”

Lumpkin County coach Brian Matthews also expects a “barn-burner.” His Indians lost to Jackson County by one point in an early-season match but neither team had its full roster.

“Both teams are so close. It could come down to a takedown,” Matthews said. “It’s really like the first rounds of the state tournament. There are four or five teams really that could qualify. Every match will be important. We feel like we’re in the running but you never know on any given day.”

Buford, which won the the 2014 Class AAA state title, has moved up to Class AAAAA and is expected to be a challenger for the title under new coach (former Archer head man) Tom Beuglas, who led the Tigers to four straight Class AAAAAA state crowns.

Area 8-AAAAA, which includes Buford, Flowery Branch, and Johnson, will conduct its duals tournament at Walnut Grove. The Wolves should be a strong favorite going in. Clarke Central may have a slight edge on the rest of the field, but it could down to the final match for the second spot.

Area 8-AAAAAA, which includes Gainesville, Habersham Central, Winder-Barrow, Lanier, and Apalachee will hold its duals at Gainesville High. The Raiders and the Longhorns are considered the early favorites to grab the top two spots. Gainesville sports a young team this year with just one senior.

Area 8-AAAA, which houses Jefferson and Stephens County, will hold its duals at St. Pius in Atlanta. The Dragons are an overwhelming favorite to win the Area with virtually every other team expected to challenge for the top two spots.

Area 7-AAAA, which includes Chestatee, West Hall, and White County, will hold its duals at Chestatee in Gainesville. Marist and Blessed Trinity are favored as the top two teams, but Chestatee, which finished second in the Hall County Championships last month, could challenge for a spot.

The Area 4-AA Duals, which features 12 teams, including Banks County and Rabun County, will take place at Elbert County.

The Area 4-A Duals pits 13 teams, including Commerce, Riverside Military, and Towns County, and will take place at St. Francis.

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