Sports

February 20, 2014

Prep Wrestling: Later than usual, but it’s time for state

Delay leads to separate sites

As participants in an indoor sport, high school wrestlers don’t often have to consider the weather’s effects on their competitions.

This year’s Georgia High School Association traditional state tournaments are an exception.

Delayed a week by the snow and ice that affected much of north Georgia last week, the GHSA’s tournaments for Classes 4A through 6A begin today and finish Saturday, when Classes A through 3A will hold one-day events. Since 2006, all of the GHSA’s classifications have competed at one site — The Arena at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, with the exception of last season, when another event was booked there and the traditional tournaments were hosted at the Macon Centreplex, where state duals are held.

Because of the rescheduling and The Arena being previously booked for this weekend, individual sites were chosen for each classification by the GHSA. It’s a throwback to years past, when high schools or smaller arenas hosted the tournaments.

The Class 4A tournament, which will include wrestlers from Dalton, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield, is at West Laurens High School in south Georgia. The Class 3A tournament, where Coahulla Creek’s Francisco Sanchez will compete, is at Buford High School in Gwinnett County, and Murray County will travel to the Class 2A tournament at Toombs County High School in south Georgia.

The loss of The Arena — which could accommodate 12 mats with two matches in each classification going at the same time — will result in a different feel of the event for wrestlers. That may not necessarily be a bad thing for those making the trip to state for the first time.

“When you get in Gwinnett Arena and see all of those other schools from every corner of the state, it will not be nearly as intimidating this year,” Northwest coach Allen Tucker said. “Now, it won’t be much different from going to any of the big tournaments that we have been to throughout the regular season.”

Southeast coach Michael Herndon agreed that the “wow” factor will be missing this year.

“The preparation is still the same, but getting there, the overwhelming part isn’t going to be there,” Herndon said. “Getting there and getting to a high school gym seems like a little bit of a letdown. It won’t be the same. The travel part of it shouldn’t be that big of a deal since they all should be used to traveling to big tournaments.”

Murray County coach Chris Thornbury said he likes having the experience of the bigger arena for wrestlers, but he understands that the GHSA couldn’t find a venue large enough to accommodate every class on such short notice.

“The advantage of the huge arena as a location is just all of the people were going to be there,” Thornbury said. “It will definitely take some of the tournament excitement away. Even though it isn’t ideal — and it is not — I think that putting each class at individual locations was the only thing to do.”

For Thornbury’s son Clay, who won the Class 2A West sectional’s 195-pound title to advance to state, the move to Lyons presents another challenge. The winner of the East sectional — and the person Thornbury would face in the finals if they both win out — is Toombs County’s J.D. Rogers, who would have home-mat advantage.

In addition to its usual weight allowances, the GHSA announced that wrestlers would be allowed one more pound as a concession to all of the missed school and practice time caused by the winter storms. But area coaches don’t see weight being much of a factor. If a wrestler is dedicated enough to make it to the state tournament, coaches say they know to keep their weight in check.

Instead, the week off can be seen as a blessing.

“I think that it has really given our kids a break,” Tucker said. “We have one of the toughest areas in the state, and then a tough sectional, and then state. Usually, it is three straight weeks at the very top against some of the best competition. Now, we have sort of had a few more days to get our legs underneath us and maybe allow a few dings to heal up.”

The time off can also be a trying period for wrestlers and coaches.

“It is another week of worrying about everything,” Thornbury, the coach, said. “You could wake up and something be wrong. It is another week of no guarantees.”

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