Sports

February 14, 2013

Raiders’ five lead way for local teams

For first-time qualifiers, there’s the risk of being awestruck and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event.

For those who have been before but fallen short of their goals, there’s a chance of letting past missteps cast doubt on the present task.

For those who have gone and succeeded, there’s the downside of being known and targeted as one to beat.

The Georgia High School Association’s state traditional tournaments aren’t exactly easy for anyone, and local wrestlers who qualified for the events aren’t likely to escape some sort of challenge — even it’s only themselves — if they want a top-six finish and a place on the medal stand at the Macon Centreplex this weekend.

Classes 4A through 6A begin competition today, with one championship round for their 16-wrestler brackets in all 14 weight classes. Class A through 3A will join the action Friday afternoon, starting with the quarterfinals because their brackets only have eight wrestlers. All tournaments will wrap up Saturday, with the finals set to begin at 3 p.m.

Wrestlers qualified for the tournaments by finishing in the top four at their respective area tournaments two weeks ago and placing in the top half of the field at this past weekend’s sectional tournaments.

Where they placed in those events won’t matter much once everyone steps on the mat and whistles are blown, but wrestlers can’t help but plot potential paths to a title. Despite coaches’ admonitions to focus on one match at a time, bracket watching is always a temptation.

That’s something Southeast Whitfield coach Michael Herndon, who is taking five wrestlers to the Class 4A tournament, knows well.

“The brackets came out pretty early on Sunday, and one of my wrestlers told me the brackets were out,” Herndon said. “So he knew before I did.”

Herndon is optimistic about the medal hopes for all of the Raiders, and he hopes they have at least a small advantage from having wrestled earlier this year at the Centreplex, where the tournaments moved this season after being held for several years at the Gwinnett Arena. Southeast was the only local school to qualify for last month’s state duals, meaning Herndon’s wrestlers won’t be caught off guard when walking in the building.

Nor is going to state a first-time experience for most of the Raiders. Carlos Fraire, a 220-pound senior, finished second in the Class 3A state tournament last season, and Southeast’s Lester Paucay (152) and Austin Allen (170) also qualified for state a year ago. Jesus Dominguez (120) and Jose Martir (285) are making their first trip as competitors, but Dominguez has attended as a spectator and Martir is at least familiar with the Centreplex.

The hopes are likely highest for Fraire, who probably started plotting a return the moment he stepped off the mat last year following his one-point, triple-overtime loss to Allatoona’s Bryson Brindle. Fraire made a surprising run last year, but with only one loss this season — to a Class 6A wrestler — he’s not likely to be stealthy this time.

Handling that pressure of being a favorite got added to the list of tasks for Fraire.

“He’s done pretty good with it for most of the year, but there was one point where it did kind of get to him,” Herndon said. “He’s walking the halls and everyone’s calling him ‘state champ.’ I mean, he’s 17, so I think that kind of got to him. But that was in the first month and we talked after practice and it’s been good since then.”

Fraire said he simply doesn’t want to disappoint anyone.

“I’ve been taking every match this year pretty serious,” he said.

Someone else who understands the role of marked man is Dalton’s Sidney Wheeler (182), who returns to state after winning a 3A title as a sophomore and later vowing to become his school’s first three-time champion. Catamounts coach Michael Keefe hopes Wheeler is able to repeat and said he “expects” Dylan Carlile (120), a junior and first-time qualifier, to win a title as well.

For both, being mentally prepared is crucial, Keefe said. Carlile has gained a “mental edge” after avenging a loss to Dominguez in the Area 7-4A finals with a win over him in the Class 4A West sectional, the coach said, while Wheeler is likely to be helped by his loss last weekend to Carrollton’s Travis Joyce.

Along with Heritage-Catoosa’s Michael Moore — who early in the season handed Wheeler his only other loss for the year — Joyce is likely the biggest roadblock to Wheeler’s mission.

“For him, it’s going to be about wrestling his match and wrestling with confidence,” Keefe said. “I was excited after sectionals, because even though Sidney placed third, I know how he is and how he reacts to losing. He’s a fighter — a kickboxer and a mixed martial artist — and sometimes it takes him getting knocked down.”

Also in Class 4A, Northwest Whitfield’s Blake Hayes (106) and Alex Reynolds (145) are both first-time qualifiers, but Bruins coach Allen Tucker is counting neither out.

“There’s nine or 10 kids who could be a state champion (at 106),” Tucker said. “There’s no clear-cut kid who is the favorite in Blake’s weight class.”

In 3A, North Murray’s lone representative is Alex Gambino (106), who finished as runner-up at sectionals after finishing fourth at area.

In 2A, Murray County junior Clay Thornbury (182) will try to build on an already impressive postseason that includes a runner-up area finish and a third-place showing at sectionals despite never having advanced beyond area before this year.

“I think he’s ready,” said Indians coach Chris Thornbury, Clay’s father. “I just hope he wrestles like he did at sectionals. He wrestled really well under pressure in those matches that you’ve got to win to even go to state, when you go against people you don’t know anything about but that they’re good. I hope he can bring that same kind of attitude to this.”

For more on the tournaments, including brackets and schedules for all classifiations, visit ghsa.net.

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