Entering Saturday’s Murray Invitational wrestling tournament at Murray County High School, one of the most highly anticipated matchups was expected to occur in the championship of the 182-pound weight class between two of the area’s top senior competitors — Southeast Whitfield’s Austin Allen and Dalton’s Sidney Wheeler.
But Wheeler, a Class 3A state champion in 2012, didn’t compete in the event because he was serving a “brief suspension” from the team.
Allen was there, though, and he walked away with a second-period pin of Murray County’s Dustin Gibson in the finals as he claimed the title and helped lead Southeast to a fifth-place finish in the 12-team field. Gordon Lee won the team title.
“I was really looking forward to facing Sidney again because the last time we faced each other we went all out and I got gassed at the end,” said Allen, who lost 9-6 to Wheeler in the first meeting this season between the two. “I was sort of disappointed that he wasn’t here.”
In fact, Dalton was without its top three wrestlers — Wheeler, Dylan Carlile (132) and Brian Nuñez (138). Carlile and Nuñez were competing in the Sham Slam tournament at Habersham Central.
Dalton coach Michael Keefe provided few details on Wheeler, but he did say he would return to the mats at the Darlington Invitational this coming Saturday.
“Sidney will be back next weekend, but he is serving a brief suspension for an incident at school,” Keefe said. “It wasn’t nothing too bad, but it could have been avoided.”
Allen and Wheeler will likely not face each other until the Area 7-4A traditional tournament on Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at Cass, and Allen said he is looking forward to facing Wheeler — who dealt him his only loss this season — as a measuring stick before quest for a state title begins. Still, he was fairly confident he and Wheeler would be seeing each other soon.
“I have been going all out trying to get into the best shape I can be in for state,” said Allen, who finished one win away from medaling at last year’s state tournament. “My knee is the only thing bugging me, but it is all mental at this point. You just have to suck it up and move on.”
Allen was one of two Southeast wrestlers to bring home a championship on Saturday. Omar Ruiz won at 120, wasting little time in getting a first-period pin over Gordon Lee’s Nick Wilson. Ruiz is another Raider who is primed for the area tournament.
“I am pumped up for it,” said Ruiz, who went 3-0. “I am feeling pretty good, and I am looking to make the finals.”
Murray County and Coahulla Creek each had two second-place finishers, while Dalton and North Murray each had one.
Gordon Lee’s team title came as five Trojans won individual titles and eight wrestlers reached the finals. Gordon Lee finished with 185 points, with North Hall (166.5) second and Ringgold (134) third. Murray County (84) was fourth, finishing three points better than Southeast.
Dalton (65) finished eighth, followed by North Murray (54) and Coahulla Creek (53).
Gordon Lee 113-pounder Jonathan Ragsdale was presented the Todd Granger Memorial Award to the outstanding wrestler of the tournament. The award is named in honor of the former Murray County standout who died in an automobile accident in 1995. Ragsdale was presented the award by Granger’s father, Tim.
While Allen ended Gibson’s run in the tournament, Murray County had another title shot at 195, where Clay Thornbury took on Gordon Lee’s Shane Farmer. The two were tied 1-1 in the third period when Farmer was awarded a point after Thornbury was called for stalling. That proved to be the difference in the match.
Also earning medals for Murray County were third-place Domingo Bautista (113) and Seth Gilbert (220) and fourth-place Austin McCall (126).
Southeast’s Ismael Sandoval was third at 126 and Noah Bartenfield was fourth at 106, while Dalton got a second-place finish from Ivan Rivers (138) and fourth-place finishes from Erik Villalobos (132), Daniel Valdez (152) and Werner Braun (170).
North Murray was led by Ethan Center’s second-place finish at 160 with Brandon Adams (285) taking third and Alex Gambino (113) and Micha Burgess (138) each taking fourth. Coahulla Creek was paced by Levi Kinsey (106) and Joseph Long (152), who were both second.
• Northwest Whitfield finished fifth out of 12 teams at the Johns Creek Duals.
The Bruins lost 51-28 versus Mountain View and fell 40-27 to North Forsyth. They won 40-33 against Berkmar, 50-29 against Paulding County and 48-26 against Mountain View’s “B” team.
Brian Gembe (106) and Blake Hayes (113) each won all four of their matches for Northwest, while Jonathan Bergeman (132) and Austin Taylor (152) each went 4-1. Timmy Peters (126) went 3-1.