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Sunday May 16th, 2021 8:56PM

Wrestling: 15 area teams look to advance at State Prelims

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

More than a dozen northeast Georgia area wrestling teams spanning all seven classifications are still alive for State Duals titles as the playoffs head to the Preliminaries, an added round for the 2021 season.

The Preliminary rounds will be held at the eight No. 1 seeds in every classification. The team to come out of each of the eight quadrants will move on to next week’s State Duals meets. The State Duals, for the first time, will be held at eight different sites.

(Click here to see the sites for the State Duals.)

Several area programs are back once again to defend titles or build on solid finishes from 2020. Buford Class (6A), Jackson County (5A), Jefferson (4A), North Hall (3A), Banks County (2A), and Commerce (A) all will play host to their portion of the State Prelims this weekend.

North Hall, which won the Area 7-3A tournament, is back to defend its 2020 Class 3A state title. Buford, the Region 8-6A champ, took third last year in Class 5A, but has moved up a classification.

The Wolves managed to win the 8-6A Duals in their first try despite missing three starters. Coach Tom Beuglas said no one is a favorite in the Age of COVID.

“With Covid issues you never know on any given week who's team is going to be affected and who's is not,” Beuglas said. “At this point I would say everyone has a chance to win this weekend or next (at State Duals).

"It has been a tough season, with Covid issues and contact tracings it is different every week.  We have only had one weekend where we had all 14 of our best wrestlers in the lineup. Last weekend (Area Duals) we had three starters out with injuries and one out contact traced. I am hopeful at least three, if not all, will be back in the lineup this weekend."

Buford will open against Carrollton but also has perennial state playoff teams Sequoyah and Lassiter in its quadrant.

"I think (Carrollton) graduated a lot of seniors last year, but their kids are always strong and wrestle hard so we expect them to come over here with a full lineup and wrestle hard and compete," Beuglas said. "We saw Lassiter at the South Forsyth tournament in December, they have a very good team and some outstanding individuals We have not seen Seqouyah but they have a lot of state-qualifiers returning and they had a close match with Lassiter in December.  I expect that to be a tough dual and probably very close in points."

Habersham Central also is in the Class 6A field and will head to Pope to take on Dalton. Pope is the defending Class 6A state champion.

Gainesville advanced to the Class 7A Prelims after going 1-2 in last year’s Class 6A tournament but now will face last year’s Class 7A fourth-place finisher and perennial powerhouse Archer in the opening round.

North Hall will open defense of its title against LaFayette. The winner of that one will take on the Oconee County-North Murray winner in the second round.

Jackson County took third in last year’s Class 3A State Duals and a jump up in two classifications did not slow down the Panthers as they won the Region 8-5A Duals. The Panthers earned a first-round bye and will take on the winner of the Calhoun-Jackson (Atlanta) dual in the second round.

Jefferson, which took fourth last year in Class 3A, won the Region 8-4A Duals. Flowery Branch took second in the 8-4A Duals and is back once again looking for an even better showing this time around. The Dragons will open against Fayette County with the winner getting the Miller Grove-Pickens winner in the second round.

The Falcons will travel to Marist and open with Riverdale. Marist takes on Heritage-Catoosa..

Branch went 1-2 in last year’s Class 4A State Duals and coach John Waters is hoping they can build off that.

"I believe it’s an essential part of developing a winning culture," Waters said. "We have a lot of young guys that need this experience in order to grow. It will help them reevaluate their goals and what is possible. 

"Riverdale will be a tough opponent. They are a difficult match-up for us due to their strength in the upper weights. (Marist and Heritage) are extremely strong and well coached. I feel like we're improving on a daily basis and hopefully we will continue to grow and develop."

In Class 3A, Lumpkin County is back for the first time since 2019 when it finished in the top six. However, both Dawson County (5-3A) and West Hall (7-3A) advanced out of the Area Duals for the first time in more than a decade.

Lumpkin County will be at Hart County and open with Coahulla Creek. Hart County takes on Murray County.

Dawson County and West Hall both head to Sonoraville. The Tigers will to take on Stephens County while West Hall opens against 2020 State Duals runner-up Sonoraville.

Banks County won the Area 8-2A Duals and is back in the state tournament for the first time since 2015 (Class 3A). The Leopards take on Westside-Augusta with the Pepperell and Pace Academy match to follow.

Commerce, which finished second in Class A in 2020 after winning six straight state titles, won Area 8-A once again and is back to try and reclaim its crown. Towns County made it out of Area for the first time in over a decade. The Tigers wrestle Bowden with the Gordon Lee-Wesleyan matchup to follow.

Towns County travels to Landmark Christian and opens against Landmark in its opener with the Armuchee-Holy Innocents' winner up next.

And, a trio of newcomers in Cherokee Bluff (3A) and Rabun County and Union County in Class 2A all advanced out of the Area Duals for the first time. 

For the Bears, it is the first major step forward for the fledgling program. They will take on Ringgold at Gilmer. The host Bobcats will take on Monroe Area.

"We have been in some of the toughest areas in the state. I think we have shown a lot of improvement over the last three years,” Bluff coach Michael Millwood said. “We have kids on this team that only get better as the weeks go by.  We are still young with only two seniors and a few juniors. But our guys will battle you to the end."

In Class 2A, Union County heads to Dade County and will take on Elbert County in the first round. Rabun County travels to Oglethorpe County to take on the Patriots in the first round.

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