Twenty-two Bartow County wrestlers are amongst the field of hopefuls in the Class AA (Adairsville), AAA (Cartersville) and AAAA (Cass and Woodland) tournaments, all of which got under way Thursday evening with the round of 16.
Bartow representatives include Chad Hawkins of Woodland; Alec Rivera of Cass (103 pounds); Kevin Grimaldo of Adairsville, Nick Sims of Cass (112); Sammy Rosario of Cass, Zack Culver of Woodland, Hayden Randolph of Adairsville (119); Virgil Gentry of Adairsville (125); Ryan Cecil of Woodland (a state champ at 125 last year), Austin Buffaloe of Cass (130); Jordy Henson of Woodland, Cody Tincher of Adairsville (135); Trent Gresham of Woodland (145); Alex Kanocz of Cass (152); Jake Johnson of Cartersville (160); Tate Murray of Cartersville, Hunter Purvine of Cass, Ricky Ranel of Woodland (189); Dalton Johnson of Adairsville, Clint Lemon of Woodland, Albert Catron of Cass (215); and Max Smith of Cass (285).
"We've been preaching to our kids, they represent one of the 16-best wrestlers in the state [in their weight class]," coach Patrick Konen said of his Tigers.
Likewise, though, Konen noted that any of his wrestlers' opponents could be the eventual state champion.
"You have to treat every match like you're wrestling the state champion," he said. "Every match is going to be tough, and we stressed to 'em every match is important."
Johnson, who finished up second at his weight class during last week's west sectionals, is the Adairsville wrestler with the most experience as a fifth-place finisher last year.
This season may be more difficult, however, with Johnson moving up in weight class.
"He's in a tough weight class this year, probably a little tougher than the 189[-pound weight class] was last year, so he's got his work cut out for him," Konen said. "He's got a tough road ahead of him."
Like Adairsville's Johnson, Cartersville's two state-qualifying wrestlers, Murray and Jake Johnson, placed at the state tournament last season. But just as their Tiger counterpart, the two Purple Hurricanes did so in different weight classes, Murray at 160, Johnson at 152.
Cartersville coach Garvin Edwards acknowledged that having qualified for each state tournament benefits Johnson, a junior, and Murray, a senior.
"It can be overwhelming when you see 10 wrestling mats down in an arena, little bitty things like that can ... really take [your] focus away from where it needs to be," Edwards added. "Both of them have qualified [every year] since they've been here."
How much of an advantage that gives a wrestler is minimal at best in the Canes coach's eyes, though.
"Unfortunately, the brackets change yearly ... it's a new tournament for those two guys. They know that, they understand that. ... Other than the fact it gives them a little advantage ... it's neither here nor there," Edwards added. "They'll have to wrestle hard each match in order to, hopefully, eclipse that.
"We've had good practices this week. ... The guys have really focused on their weaknesses and the areas they feel they need to work on. ... Talking with those two guys, our focus has been on specific, opponent-related [concerns]."
Cass coach D.L. Koontz also said he has talked with his wrestlers about potential matchups and how to proceed against certain opponents.
"They know there's going to be some obstacles in front of them," Koontz said. "We've just been fixing the little errors ... and working on getting them to take advantage of [scoring opportunities]."
"[The] mindset so far has been really focused," he added of his wrestlers. "They've watched their weights better than I've seen them do in two years."
Although the Colonels' county-high eight qualifiers gives them a chance to score high as a team at the traditional tournament, Koontz is not so concerned with that.
"If they [wrestlers] do what they're capable of doing, the team placement will take care of itself," he said. "It's all about the kid, and the team [score] really will take care of itself."
Cass has three seniors -- Kanocz, Purvine and Catron -- in this weekend's tournament. Kanocz and Purvine have been to state before, once before with the Colonels (as a sophomore) and also as an Adairsville wrestler for Kanocz and a couple of years ago as a sophomore for Purvine.
"Bam-Bam's really the only newbie of the seniors," Koontz said of Catron. "For those guys to obviously go out on a high note would be great."
Catron could follow in the footsteps of his cousin Greg Magee, a football player like Catron. Magee placed second at 189 during the 2007 traditional tournament.
"We're hoping that it can be another situation like that for Bam-Bam," Koontz said.
Wrestling action continues today with Round 2, wrestlebacks, from 8:30 to 11 a.m.