MACON — Northeast Georgia programs enter this weekend's State Duals wrestling tournament with weighty expectations.
The three-day tournament, which gets under way beginning Thursday at the Macon Centreplex, is a double-elimination format for all seven classifications with each classification championship match scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday.
One northeast Georgia team -- Commerce in Class A -- enters as the No. 1 overall seed, while three others -- Lumpkin County in Class AAA, Jefferson in Class AAAA, Buford in Class AAAAA -- take No. 2 overall seeds into their respective tournaments.
The fact that the Dragons -- who have won a State Duals crown every year the competition has been in existance, 15 straight -- are a two-seed speaks volumes for the strength of Class AAAA.
Gilmer, itself a seven-time defending state champion -- four straight in Class AAAA -- is the No. 1 seed and Jefferson, which has won a State Duals over three different classifications, knows it will have to be at its peak to claim No. 16.
“We have West Laurens, Marist, and Woodward Academy on our side of the draw. There won’t be any easy matches if we make it to the finals,” said longtime Dragons head coach Doug Thurmond, who believes it may be the toughest field his program has ever faced -- but is also optimistic. “We feel good about how we’re wrestling right now but any of those teams are capable of beating us if we have an off day.”
Of a potential showdown with Gilmer in the finals, Thurmond said he’ll worry about that on Saturday.
“I think that could be a great match. But we have a long way to go before that,” he said. “I’m sure that would be fun for the fans -- not sure for the coaches.”
In Class AAAAAA, Gainesville advanced after taking second place in the Area 8-AAAAAA duals on Tuesday based on criteria after outscoring Habersham Central and Dacula in a three-way tie for second. The Red Elephants will take on Valdosta in the opening round at 3 p.m. on Thursday.
Gainesville coach Shane Millwood said that having a full and healthy roster keyed the surge into state.
“That was the first time since before Christmas we had everyone available. I feel like we’re pretty good when we have all our guys. We had a good tournament,” Millwood said. “I don’t know much about Valdosta but I’m sure they’ll be tough. We’ll give it everything we’ve got.”
Lanier won 8-AAAAAA and will take on Lee County in the first round.
In Class AAAAA, Buford, fresh off its Area 8-AAAAA Duals title, is the No. 2 seed overall and will take on Arabia Mountain at 3 p.m. on Thursday in the first round. Clarke Central was the other team from 8-AAAAA to advance to state.
First-year Buford coach Tom Beuglas said they, too, will face a tough road to Saturday.
"We have Arabia Mountain and possibly Veterans and then Union Grove if we get (to the semifinals)," Beuglas said. "Union Grove is very good and will be tough to beat. Then, if we are fortunate enough to get past them, we would have (No. 1 seed) Woodland-Cartersville in the finals. It is going to be tough (the entire way)."
In Class AAA, Lumpkin County knocked off Jackson County in the finals of the Area 4-AAA Duals. The Indians are the No. 2 overall seed in AAA and will open against Cook County at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Jackson County nipped Morgan County for second place in 4-AAA and advanced. The Panthers will open against Pierce County at 5:30 p.m. Friday but could meet No. 1 seed Bremen in the second round.
Lumpkin County coach Brian Matthews said the Indians also face a tough road.
“There won’t be any easy matches,” Matthews said. “Bremen will be tough to beat. They beat Archer, Gilmer, and Commerce in a duals tournament earlier in the season. But we also feel like we’ll be competitive. We’ll see what happens.”
In Class A, Commerce, the three-time defending state champion, is the No. 1 overall seed after winning the Area 4-A Duals. The Tigers will open against Mount de Sales at 3 p.m. on Friday in the first round.
Commerce coach Kendall Love said he will be taking a healthy team for the first time into Macon.
"We will have big targets on our back," Love said. "We know that, but our guys have done well with that in the past. We're working hard."
The Tigers could face Mt. Zion-Carroll in the second round, a rematch of last year's Class A finals.
"They're usually tough but they're a different team this time. Trion is the No. 2 seed, and I think that both teams have a good chance to meet in the finals," Love said. "Our goal is just try and get better after each match."