All told, 22 Bartow County wrestlers qualified for state a season ago, including five from Adairsville — where the state championship theme continues with the addition of the Tigers’ new coach.
Cartersville returns the county’s only individual state champion in Jake Johnson, who won a title in Gwinnett alongside Cass’ Albert Catron and teammate Tate Murray — both have since graduated.
As far as team titles go, Woodland was the county’s lone collector of such a championship as the Wildcats overcame a slow start in the final month of the season to win the state duals.
Below is a team-by-team look at the local schools and their prospects for the 2011-12 wrestling season.
Hopeful Adairsville wrestlers dreaming of winning a state championship will not need to look any further than their head coach, former Armuchee wrestler and two-time state champion Joey Harris. Harris enters his first season as the Tigers coach after taking over from Patrick Konen, who has stayed on as an assistant.
Harris has called for all-out effort from his wrestlers since assuming his position.
“We just always ask the guys to work hard and give us all they have. We try to always … get more than expected from [wrestlers],” he said. “[The] No. 1 [thing] is just work hard and push yourselves, push your teammates. Hopefully we’ll see some leaders develop.”
With state qualifiers like Dalton Johnson, Kevin Grimaldo, Hayden Randolph and Virgil Gentry as well as other top returners Bo Depasquale and Brock Arp in the fold, Adairsville seems to have the makings of a rather stout lineup.
“We have a possibility of being really strong from 106 all the way to 140 with returning guys, so that’s half the weight classes. … So, we expect to keep things close,” Harris said. “We have probably the most experienced lineup we’ve had in quite some time as far as numbers.”
Some freshmen may even find their way into the lineup, said the Adairsville Middle School teacher.
“I expect us to be tough because those guys that are returning that did qualify for state are coming right together there [in the lineup] and that’s good for them and good for the team,” Harris said.
Currently, many of the Tigers’ returners — Johnson, Randolph, Depasquale, Arp — are on the gridiron as the football team prepares for its second-round game at Fitzgerald on Friday.
“It’s been a little strange not having the full team,” Harris acknowledged. However, the coach noted he would like to see the team go as far as it possibly can and hopefully that momentum can transfer over to Adairsville’s mat men.
In addition to missing some key wrestlers early on, the Tigers also have dealt with injuries. Grimaldo has battled through knee trouble and is not yet 100 percent and neither is Gentry, Harris said.
“Virgil Gentry had an accident and he’s going through some things,” the coach added.
Due to those situations, Adairsville is taking things slowly to start the season. “Right now we’ve just been focusing on the basics,” Harris said.
Once the Tigers get their complement of wrestlers, they will re-address some goals, which Harris will allow his wrestlers to do since they will be working toward them.
He did, however, list a few of the things he would like to have happen this year.
“I do want to qualify as many as I can for the traditional tournament. It’d be great to finish 1 or 2 in the area duals and qualify for state. … We always want to be in that top four at region duals and I think we’ve got a chance to be a tough team. With some good leadership and this group of returners, we don’t have a whole lot of verbal leaders but they all are leaders by example,” Harris said. “They’re not your show horses, they’re your workhorses.”
Adairsville, which hosts a junior varsity duals meet Saturday, opens its varsity slate next Tuesday at Pepperell.
Cartersville Purple Hurricanes
Two Cartersville wrestlers ended last season on the highest of highs as they won their respective weight classes to earn Class AAA state championships. One of those wrestlers, Jake Johnson, returns for the Purple Hurricanes, who will try to build on the momentum created by the two title winners — Tate Murray also was victorious in his final prep match.
Johnson, who won his title at 160 pounds, and fellow seniors Ty Downer, Hans Navarette and TaMicheal Wills are being counted on to push Cartersville to new heights this season.
“I think we have the potential for a real good season. We got a good group of returning seniors who have been in our program since middle school now. The senior leadership is always present at practice and at competitions,” Canes coach Garvin Edwards said.
In addition, Edwards added, Cartersville returns other wrestlers who were chunked in the fire but managed to survive as youngsters last season.
“They’re gonna be better because of it. Some of those underclassmen are gonna contribute,” he said. Those wrestlers include junior Gerry Vassil and sophomores Ethan Ridgeway, Evan Cole and Houston Stewart. Of Ridgeway, Cole and Stewart — who all came within a match of a state-qualifying berth — Edwards said, “I think those three kids have a good opportunity to be back in the starting lineup.”
The Canes should once again feature a handful of talented albeit extremely young wrestlers.
“We could possibly have four or five [freshmen] in the starting lineup this year and they’re good quality kids who have wrestled in the middle school program,” Edwards said. “[We will have] eight duals meets before Thanksgiving so they’re all gonna get a welcoming right away. It’s gonna be a tough start, but we like to go ahead and get started right away.”
The influx of freshmen has been aided in part to the GHSA’s new weight-class structure, which includes some of the same classes with many new ones thrown in — 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220, 285.
“It’s gonna spread things out for us and it’s gonna get a lot more of our freshmen [in the lineup] than usually get involved as a starter,” Edwards said of the weight classes. “There was such a disparity between 189 and 220 so what they did is made it  and 195.”
Cartersville opens the season Saturday in West Hall’s Spartan Slam Duals, which will feature strong programs such as South Forsyth, Lumpkin County, Henry County and Whitewater.
“It’ll be a tough tournament,” Edwards acknowledged.
The same can be said for the Canes’ season, which will come down to the Area 7-AAA Duals and the Traditional Area 7-AAA Tournament. Nevertheless, the Cartersville coach believes his team can still be amongst the top teams vying for a state duals berth.
“It’s very tough in this region to come out as either the 1 or the 2 [seed] with the LaFayettes [of the world] and Allatoona, Gilmer, Heritage,” Edwards said, noting that those four teams were in the top 10 at the traditional tournament. “It’ll be very tough but I still feel like that’s our goal. That’s what we’re gonna work toward.”
“We do have a lot of young kids that are gonna have to get into the starting lineup in order for us to do that,” he continued. “I still believe we have a chance to do that.”
Johnson’s experience of winning a state championship could benefit the Canes in the long run.
“It’s always a big help when some individuals can have some success and then they can come in there and be an example to the other kids as far as their work ethic. He’s always worked very hard for us from the first day he walked in as a sixth-grader. … Jake’s a great example of a team player that’s had some individual success,” Edwards said. “It’s huge for me to have those [senior] guys to go around and teach the younger guys.
“It is a long season, but we are looking forward to it.”
With some guys being slotted into more prominent roles, Cass gradually made its mark last season, perhaps wrestling better than any other county team by the end of the season.
Coinciding with the team’s rise was former Colonel Albert Catron, who wrestled less than 20 matches but was able to snag a state title at the traditional tournament.
That same weekend, Cass — which sent a county-high eight wrestlers to the state traditional tournament— placed third as it was aided by Catron’s performance as well as those of its other qualifiers. The Colonels return five of their state qualifiers from last season — Alec Rivera, Nick Sims, Sammy Rosario, Austin Buffaloe, Max Smith — and figure to get out to a bit of a faster start.
But even if it does not win the Bartow County Championship in December or the Area 7-AAAA Duals in January, Cass could very well still be the hottest local team wrestling come February. The Colonels have the veteran horses as well as a coach in D.L. Koontz who knows how to get his team peaking at just the right time.
Cass opens the season Dec. 1 at Sonoraville against the host school and LaFayette.
Having won a Class AAAA state duals title nearly nine months ago, Woodland must avoid any sort of championship hangover if it hopes for any repeat success. The Wildcats also will have to avoid the waning focus that almost derailed last season before a final-week flurry in the state duals — which were moved the end of wrestling calendar after inclement January weather postponed it.
Second-year coach Adrian Tramutola thinks the tests his team will receive during the season will prevent Woodland from shifting its gaze elsewhere.
“We’ve gotta stay focused throughout the entire year. I think our schedule is gonna demand that we stay focused throughout the entire year,” said Tramutola, whose team won the Bartow County championship and Area 7-AAAA duals and finished 11th in the state traditional tournament. “We’ll be at a tournmanet [Kyle Maynard Duals at Collins Hill] where the No. 4 team in the nation Brandon (Fla.) High School will be.”
“I think they got a taste of what winning the state championship was like. That should be enough to fuel them to possibly come back and repeat,” Tramutola continued. “We return a great handful.”
The Wildcats do return a number of wrestlers but lost some key guys in Trent Gresham, Ricky Ranel and Ryan Cecil, the school’s all-time winningest wrestler.
“The biggest challenge [is] we lose a kid like Ryan Cecil that we can’t replace. Not only was he a great wrestler on our team, but he was a great leader on our team,” said Tramutola of Cecil, who won a state championship as a junior and finished as a runner-up last year.
Helping to offset some of Woodland’s departures will be returning state qualifiers Chad Hawkins, who placed fourth at 103, Zach Culver, Jordy Henson and Clint Lemon.
“Those are the kids we’re really gonna look to to lead us,” Tramutola said. As for the other 11 spots, freshmen may come into play amongst other possibilities. “We’re gonna put the best 14 kids in our lineup to wrestle — if that means one guy bumping up, one guy bumping down, [we will do it].”
Tramutola does not believe the new weight classes will alter the Wildcats lineup any more than other teams.
“I think it affects us just like it affects everybody. It’s an even playing field. Everybody has to make the same adjustments,” he said.
In the end, Woodland — which opens the season this weekend at Allatoona’s Black Beard Duals — should be in contention to add to its two state duals titles, which includes the school’s first in 2003.
“Every year we’re here where gonna try to contend for a state championship. I think we’re starting to get our whole team onboard with that expectation,” Tramutola said. “Our goal is gonna be to always try to win both [a state duals championship and a state traditional tournament]. If we do that, that’s great. If we come up a little short and we’ve given our best effort, we’ll be happy with that as well.”
While the Wildcats may have been able to slip under the radar — “I think people may have slept on us a little bit because of our results throughout the year,” their coach said — on their way to last year’s title, that likely won’t be the case for the 2011-12 season.