MACON — Once again, not only will northeast Georgia be well represented in the upcoming State Duals wrestling tournament, but four area programs head into the meet with either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in their respective classifications.
North Hall in Class 3A and Commerce in Class A come in as defending state champions and both will be the top seeds and the favorites to bring home the hardware in their classifications. Buford, the two-time defending Class 5A state champion, and Jefferson in Class 3A come in as No. 2 seeds. Though the Dragons, who moved down to Class 3A this season, are the defending Class 4A state champions.
The three-day State Duals get underway beginning Thursday in Macon at The Centreplex. The finals for all seven classifications will be held on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Class 3A is sure to offer plenty of intriguing matches.
Jefferson has won 17 consecutive Duals titles since 2002 spanning four classifications. The last time Jefferson moved into a classification with a current reigning state champion was the 2016-17 season when the Dragons moved up to Class 4A, where four-time defending Gilmer, who had won seven straight titles of their own, reigned supreme at that time. Jefferson took down the Bobcats each of the two seasons it was in Class 4A.
However, this time around the Dragons, the Area 6-3A champions, will be the unusual underdog to keep the state’s most impressive streak alive. They dropped a regular season meet to North Hall earlier in the season earning the Trojans, the Area 5-3A champs, the overall No. 1 seed. Both teams, along with Jackson County, the No. 2 seed out of Area 6-3A and fourth seed overall, received first-round byes.
North Hall will get the winner of the Cook County-Islands matchup; Jefferson gets the Benedictine-Central Macon winner, and Jackson County awaits the Pike County-Coahulla Creek winner in the second round. All three of those quarterfinals matches will take place at 8:15 p.m. on Thursday.
If North Hall and Jefferson manage to advance to the finals, expect World War III on the mat.
“I think our kids and their kids would love to see that match happen,” North Hall coach David Nichols said. “However, Class 3A is stacked and you can’t overlook anyone. We are preparing for everyone.
“Who is or isn’t the No 1 seed doesn’t concern us. We’re not worried about whoever is after our first match. At this point in the season, we’re only focusing on ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Lumpkin County, the No. 2 seed from 5-3A, will face last year’s Traditional state champion Sonoraville in the first round at 3:45 p.m. Thursday. The Indians could be a dark horse team. They finished fourth in 2016 and second in 2017. They did not advance to state in 2018.
For Buford, the Wolves will face Statesboro in the opening round on Thursday in Class 5A. If they get past the Blue Devils, they will take on the Decatur-Harris County winner in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
The Wolves won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018 in both the Duals and Traditionals. But coach Tom Beuglas brings in a much younger squad as he looks to defend their titles. Woodland-Cartersville is the No. 1 seed and already has claimed titles in several national tournaments this season.
“I think 5A is arguably the toughest classification in the state,” Beuglas said. “(Class 5A) has a lot of teams that are very good -- Locust Grove, Ola, Veterans, Cass, Harris County, in addition to Woodland. We are starting seven (of 14 starters) that are freshmen or sophomores and only have one senior, so it is going to be very tough for us to repeat this year.
“But since we are the No. 2 seed this year I think that helps take some of the pressure off of us and puts it on Woodland.”
In Class A, five-time defending state champion Commerce received a first-round bye and will take on the Mt. Zion-Strong Rock winner at 8:15 p.m. in Thursday’s quarterfinals. Trion, Wesleyan, and Turner County are the other top 4 seeds to receive first-round byes as well.
Commerce coach Kendall Love knows they are the hunted but has a young team that has been tested in tournaments in Tennessee and Texas, as well as some Georgia meets.
"We know we have a bullseye on our back so we just need to be ready," Love said. "We have a very young team with 10 freshmen or sophomores in the lineup but they have been tested a lot so far. We have not lost to a Class A team in any meet we've been at this year so for us it's just about going out there and focusing and doing what we do best.
"Trion is young also, but good, and I expect Wesleyan, who we beat the last two years in the finals, to be in the mix as well. We're looking forward to trying to defend the title again."
In Class 6A, Habersham Central is making a second consecutive trip to the State Duals. The Raiders went 1-2 in last year’s Duals, falling to eventual third-place Creekview in the opening round and to Pope in the consolation bracket. They open this year’s tournament against the Greyhounds at 11:15 a.m. on Thursday.
In Class 4A, Chestatee is making its first appearance at the Duals since 2014, when the War Eagles finished in the top six. Chestatee will take on North Oconee in the opening round at 9 a.m. on Thursday.