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January 13, 2014

Local wrestling teams battle for The Conasauga Cup

For the first time in four years, each high school wrestling team from Murray and Whitfield counties is eyeing the Conasauga Cup.

North Murray and Coahulla Creek are hoping to reign supreme above their nearby rivals for the first time in — well, ever.

“We circle it every year,” North Murray coach Steve Colley said. “This year, our seniors want to win it.”

The Colts and Mountaineers join Dalton, Murray County, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield at Dalton High’s gymnasium today for the annual duals tournament and chance for bragging rights among local grapplers. The event starts at 5 p.m.

“It’s about pride,” Southeast coach Michael Herndon said. “For this area, I think it’s a big deal.”

Plus, there’s the possibility for matchups between some of the area’s top wrestlers. It could be a rematch between Dalton’s Sidney Wheeler and Southeast’s Austin Allen in the 182-pound weight class after the two met in the weight class’ championship round of last month’s Carpet Classic, where Wheeler became the first this season to defeat Allen.

Maybe it’s a matchup between Murray County’s Clay Thornbury and Northwest’s Jordan Lewis at 195. Or Coahulla Creek’s Austin Coker could meet North Murray’s Ethan Center at 160.

“It’s good competition,” Murray County coach Chris Thornbury, Clay’s father, said. “It’s good for the kids because we’re all close to each other. They all know one another and are friends.”

The six teams are divided into two three-team pools — Coahulla Creek, Dalton and Murray County in one; North Murray, Northwest and Southeast in the other. Each team wrestles the other two in its pool and the pool winners face off for the championship.

The tournament field didn’t include Coahulla Creek last year, when Southeast’s Raiders won the cup for the first time since the competition resumed its yearly occurrence during the 2005-2006 season. Murray County missed the event during the 2011-2012 season, when Dalton won. The year prior, the event wasn’t held due to weather.

Coahulla Creek has only had a varsity wrestling team for two years, one less than North Murray.

“I think we’re ready. I know Northwest and Dalton are stacked this year,” said Colley, whose Mountaineers didn’t compete at the Area 5-3A duals due to an incomplete lineup. “We’re healthy. This time last year I could barely put a team together because we were so beat up.”

The Conasauga Cup was a four-team faceoff between Dalton, Murray County, Northwest and Southeast when the event was started by former Murray County coach Tony Plavich. His aim was to get local teams on the same mat no matter what Georgia High School Association classification they were placed in. Schools alternate hosting.

“We want ‘the turtle,’” Northwest coach Allen Tucker said of the trophy topped with a plastic turtle. “We want to bring it back to Northwest. ... It’s one tournament at a time and the next one is the cup. If we wrestle like we should, we should have a chance to bring the turtle home.”

Since Murray County coach Thornbury restarted the competition in 2005, the Indians have won it the most (four times) while Dalton, Northwest and Southeast each have claimed it once.

“It means a lot to us to perform well,” coach Thornbury said, “and it’s the local schools — for us, it’s a big deal and I like to think it’s a big deal for everybody.”

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