Traditional tournaments replace their duals-styled brethren for the last month of the wrestling season as each individual grapples to prove he is the best in his weight class. Of course, a top-four spot this weekend will do well enough to push a wrestler through to next weekend's sectionals.
More than 20 Bartow wrestlers advanced to their respective sectionals in 2011, so there hasn't been much need for coaches to tell wrestlers what's at stake.
"We haven't had an issue keeping 'em on task," said Adairsville coach Joey Harris, whose team wrestles at Rockmart beginning today. "As far as them being focused when it comes to wrestling, they've been pretty spot-on. The seniors and some of the [other] leaders are starting to emerge. It's something we were kind of worried about early, the leadership qualities in the room."
Since last month, however, Harris's early season concerns have dissipated with the Tigers looking locked and loaded prior to the Area 7-AA duals, where they came in as runners-up to qualify for state.
"I'm proud of our seniors," the first-year Adairsville coach said regarding their initiative and leadership in the last few weeks.
The Tigers will need to keep their momentum going, even if many of their wrestlers received favorable seeds.
"We got a good number of senior wrestlers [seeded high] and we tell 'em seeds can still be misleading. You still gotta go out and wrestle. Seeds come before wrestling," Harris said. "We reference stories that we now know of to make sure of one thing -- we always tell 'em fluky things happen during this time of the season. We always tell 'em don't let fluky things happen to us."
For wrestlers not seeded as high, the advice is not one of caution but one of encouragement.
"[We] make sure they understand the situation going in. Nobody's out, they still got a chance," Harris continued.
Cass coach D.L. Koontz seems to like the chances for his team, which like Adairsville placed as a runner-up in its area duals.
"My expectations for the individual wrestlers is to place as high as they can," said Koontz, whose wrestlers will be at their home gym, site of the Area 7-AAAA tournament. "I think the majority of the team has a very good shot of placing in the top four -- I would say 12 of 14 after looking at the draws and everything.
"Whether this be the last tournament that they wrestle this year or the last tournament they wrestle in their careers, I just want to make sure they enjoy it but that they leave every opportunity on the mat, so when it's all said and done, they can say there's nothing I could have done different."
Though Koontz would love for his team to win the area tournament on its home gym floor -- a scenario he figures will come down to his Colonels or county rival Woodland -- he isn't browbeating his wrestlers with that as a goal.
"It's always a bonus, I put it that way. I've never told the kids, 'Hey, this is what you need to do,'" the Cass coach said. "When it's all said and done, if they wrestle to the best of their ability, that part takes care of itself. An area title is a great thing, and I do believe the trophies should stay here in Bartow County, whichever way they fall."
The Wildcats almost won the area tournament last year, losing by 1 1/2 points to Creekview. For all its duals success -- three straight area titles -- Woodland hasn't been able to do capture that same accomplishment come traditional tournament time.
"We've come up empty as far as winning a championship in the traditional regional," said second-year Wildcats head coach Adrian Tramutola, who has been with the program for four years. "We just haven't come through in that tournament. We're really focused in trying to bring home that championship this year."
The Woodland wrestlers may have a catalyst after missing out on back-to-back state duals championships last month with a finals loss to Pope. Last year's finish at the state traditional tournament -- they were 11th -- helped the Wildcats the following weekend win the state duals -- which was postponed until late February because of inclement weather.
"I think it's kind of like last year in a different sense. Getting to the finals was great. I think the disappointment of coming so close to the finals and losing has refocused us," Tramutola said. "There's still another state championship out there to be won."
With that realization, Tramutola said he and his coaching staff "try to stress urgency for them. This is the last time they'll get to compete, and they need to go out on a great note."
He wouldn't mind seeing his entire lineup advance to sectionals, even if it is unlikely to pan out.
"I think ideally you'd like to have all 14 qualify for the sectionals," Tramutola admitted. "I don't know how realistic it is. It's a pretty tough region ... but that's what we're gunning for."
Harris, who noted he'd like to see his Adairsville team near the top of its area, approaches this weekend and this final month of the season as a platform to demonstrate the strides made since the start of the season in November.
"Everybody that's wrestling this weekend, their goal is to finish in the top four, and as a team, we expect to be up at the top," he said. "We look at this part of the season [as a chance] to show how much you've improved."
It is an opportunity wrestlers appear to relish.
"Throughout the week, they've been excited. This is their time of the year," Koontz said of his Cass wrestlers. "I don't think there's been an individual tournament that I've seen our guys not perform well at. That's kind of their thing."
Each team begins its area tournament today, including Cartersville which wrestles in the Area 7-AAA tournament being held at Allatoona.
Four Bartow wrestlers enter the weekend as returning area champions -- Woodland's Chad Hawkins and Jordy Henson, Cass's Sammy Rosario and Adairsville's Dalton Johnson.