The Cartersville wrestling program has achieved some history in Brooks Gayton's first year as head coach, qualifying for state duals for the first time since the tournament began in 2002.
"I cannot express how proud I am of this team," Gayton said after his team finished second in the Region 5-AAAA area duals Friday at Troup County. "Cartersville has never qualified for the state duals championship tournament since its creation in the 2001-02 season. This team has done something that no other team from Cartersville High School has ever done. The credit is all theirs. They have worked hard all season and fought hard to achieve our team goal of becoming the first team in our school's history to go to the state duals."
The Canes entered the five-team tournament as the No. 3 seed. A semifinal victory over LaGrange put Cartersville into the championship round. While the Canes battled hard against top-seeded Central-Carroll, Cartersville had to adjust its focus late in the match as it became apparent a likely "true second" match was on the horizon.
With Troup having knocked off LaGrange to finish third, the Tigers got to face the Canes for the final berth in the state duals. The matchup came down to the final bout. Cartersville senior Kentrel Freeman pinned his opponent in the final seconds of the third period to secure a 48-36 victory and send the Canes to next week's state duals, which will take place from Thursday through Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.
Cartersville controlled the opening few bouts against Troup, building a 24-0 lead thanks to pins from Rashar Locklear, Jabril Williams, Shadre Hurst and Rashun Hurst. The Tigers fought back but a pair of forfeits helped push the Canes to the brink.
Needing a single win or even just to avoid being pinned to finish off the match, three straight Cartersville grapplers couldn't get the job done. Up stepped Freeman, one of only three seniors on the team, and he delivered.
A victory by Freeman at 152 pounds also swung the momentum in the LaGrange match. Following a pair of losses, he kicked off a seven-match winning streak with Williams, Locklear, Shadre Hurst, Desmond Winters, Collin Buffaloe, and Matthew Surrett earning six points each for the team.
Freshman Giles Turner secured the win at 113 to push the Canes into the area finals.
Cartersville trailed 24-6 early against Central with Williams picking up the only points for the Canes before Buffaloe and Surrett recorded consecutive wins. Tyler Earick and Turner helped give Cartersville a short-lived 25-24 edge.
"Unfortunately for us, we ran into two twin brothers for Central that were both individual state qualifiers last season and proved to be too much for us to overcome," Gayton said. "After the match was mathematically impossible to win, I elected to forfeit the remaining two matches and save our energy just in case we had a true second challenge, which proved to be a reality."
Cartersville overcame that challenge to make Friday one of the most memorable ever for the Canes wrestling program. It made it even more special to Gayton, who had been an assistant with the team the past three years, to have virtually everyone connected to the program on hand for the historic moment.
"This achievement is definitely a team achievement," he said. "Obviously, the boys who competed and won matches deserve their recognition, but this was all about the team. Some credit needs to be given to all of team members. The guys who work hard every day in the practice room to push the starters to get better.
"We carried 55 team members to the region duals championship. We brought the varsity team, our JV team, our women's team, our managers and our coaches. We are really trying to emphasize the team approach, and we wanted all of our team to be able to participate in this event and see us reach our goals."