The Georgia High School Association 2021 State Duals wrestling tournament will be like none other.
For the first time ever the GHSA, mainly due to precautions from coronavirus, will stage the tournament at seven different locations instead of the Macon Coliseum.
Instead of a two-day format, all seven classifications will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday. (Click here for a list of the host sites around the state.)
And the AccessWDUN coverage area is well-represented once again on the mats. Seven area teams spanning six classifications advanced to the finals round, which consists of eight teams in each classification. They will be playing a double-elimination format but a loss of any kind in the first two rounds will knock them into the consolation round and out of title contention.
Buford advanced in Class 6A, Jackson County is in Class 5A, and Jefferson and Flowery Branch both advanced in Class 4A. North Hall is in Class 3A, Banks County advanced in Class 2A, and Commerce returned in Class A.
North Hall is the only returning state champion (Class 3A) from 2020 and comes into the 2021 Duals as the overall No. 1 seed. The Trojans looked impressive last week in the Prelims losing just one actual match on the mat.
"We are proud to be respected enough to earn the No. 1 seed. However, it is not something we discuss as a team or a program," Trojans coach David Nichols said.
North Hall opens against old Region 7-3A foe Greater Atlanta Christian in the first round. Nichols said Duals strategy is a key element to claiming a title.
"Dual wrestling is about sacrifice...it is about the team. Everyone has a role and every match point counts. Wrestlers must extend leads for bonus points and they must close the gap in match scores when necessary to eliminate bonus points for the other team," Nichols said. "Our kids have been here before and they know that the team that scores the most points wins the dual, regardless of seeding."
Commerce finished as state runners-up in 2020, as Trion snapped the Tigers’ six-year stranglehold on Class A. The Tigers, however, come in as a No. 4 seed in perhaps the most loaded of all the classifications with 2020 Class 2A state runner-up Social Circle, a No. 3 seed, now in the field, as well as returning champ Trion and a solid Mt. Pisgah (No. 2 seed) squad.
The Tigers open the tournament against Screven County with a possible showdown and rematch with Trion looming in the semifinals.
“It is very much a loaded field with the top four teams being some of the top teams in the state,” Commerce coach Kendall Love said. “This will be a war of attrition as it is all in one day, which is something none of us are used to with the state tournament.
“The seeds could have gone either way after Trion. We are going to have to wrestle well throughout the lineup to have a chance this weekend. It will definitely be well worth the price of admission.”
Jefferson saw its 18-year run as a Duals champ covering four classifications come to an end in 2020 as the Dragons finished fourth in Class 3A.
But the Dragons are back in Class 4A and bring in the No. 1 seed. Two-time defending 4A champ Woodward Academy is now in Class 5A leaving the field wide-open to fill the void.
Jefferson begins its quest for a 19th Duals title against Central-Carroll.
Dragons coach Kyle Baird said his group is ready to get started on a new streak.
“I’d say the guys are motivated because people have really been overlooking them and picking other teams to put them out of contention,” Baird said. “When you tell a group like we have that they are No. 2 in the state, or this and that team should beat them, you bring something out of someone. Right now, we’re really just looking to the next match. Staying focused on the task at hand is the main area in us being able to start a new streak.”
Flowery Branch is also in the Class 4A field and brings in a No. 3 seed. The Falcons open against No. 6 seed Spencer and could face No. 2 seed Perry if both advance to the semifinal round.
Speaking of Class 5A, Jackson County, which took third in Class 3A in 2020, comes in as a No. 6 seed. A stout field, along with Woodward Academy, also has two-time defending champ Woodland-Bartow, Ola, who was fourth in 2020, and Ware County, which finished in the top six.
The Panthers open against Cass and a win for the Panthers would more than likely match them with Woodland-Bartow in the semifinals.
Buford, which won three titles between 2014-18, brings in the No. 5 seed in another tough field in Class 6A. The Wolves will open against 2020 state runner-up Richmond Hill, though defending champion Pope did not make it out of the Prelims.
“(Class) 6A is very deep. There are some really good teams that did not even qualify,” Wolves coach Tom Beuglas said. “We are motivated to prove to the teams in 6A that we belong. Hopefully, we will be able to hold our own with the top teams in the division.
“I think our lightweights are very strong. We are less experienced in the upper weights. We are strong in the middleweights as well, so it could come down to who wins those swing matches.”
Banks County in Class 2A is back in the Duals finals for the first time since 2015. The Leopards, who come in as a No. 5 seed, are looking for their first state title since 2013, also in Class 2A.
This bracket is wide-open as the top three teams from 2020 -- defending champ Chattooga, Social Circle (now in Class A), and Elbert County -- are not in this year’s field. Toombs County, which finished fourth, is back as a No. 8 seed.
The Leopards open against Lovett and could await a matchup with No. 1 seed Oglethorpe County, if both advance, in the semifinals.