The Wildcats, defending Class AAAA state duals champions, begin their title defense of last season's Area 7-AAAA duals championship Friday as area duals tournaments get under way throughout the state -- including the Area 7-AA and 7-AAA duals tournaments at Sonoraville and Heritage-Catoosa high schools, respectively, where Adairsville and Cartersville vie for the two state-qualifying spots in their respective areas.
Cass joins Woodland in hopes of advancing through their area duals tournament at Lambert High.
Whereas the Wildcats may have surprised some in the state with their run to the state duals championship a year ago -- the school's second duals title and first since 2003 -- that is not the case when talking about Woodland's area rivals.
Two straight area duals titles have gone to the Wildcats, including one in 2009 when Area 7-AAAA had a different cast of characters.
Adrian Tramutola believes his team has plenty of experience wrestling as the targeted team.
"I think that's something they've become very familiar with. I think you get that sense inside the region [that we are the team to beat]," Tramutola said. "I believe we're gonna get everybody's best match and best effort, but we also train that way."
Woodland enters this weekend having won the Bartow County Championships last week, defeating Adairsville and then the Colonels in the finals.
"I think we're looking good. Everybody's healthy. Everybody should be at their right weight class," Tramutola said.
The Wildcats' second-year head coach acknowledged that this point in the wrestling season calls for an ultimate team mentality, meaning from one to 14 the reigning champs are counting on all.
"We're gonna need a collective effort from everybody," Tramutola continued. "We're also gonna need our horses that score the majority of points for us to go out and do what they do. ... At the end of the day, it's gonna take a great team effort."
Woodland has seen a few of its area comrades this season, including Cass twice and Rome once. But, the Wildcats won't worry about how much familiarity, or lack thereof, they have with the teams they'll see starting Friday.
"As far as being familiar with our region, [there is] not that much [familiarity] based on our schedule," Tramutola explained. "For us, I don't think it matters. How we wrestle, you gotta wrestle the first round of the region tournament like it's the first round of the state tournament."
If not, there won't be an opportunity to defend last year's title.
"I think when you start looking ahead, that's when you get beat ... You gotta be ready," said Tramutola, referencing an early ouster from the state duals tournament two years ago when he was still an assistant.
"It's double elimination. You gotta win four matches in a row, and that's what we'll attempt to do," he added.
The Colonels, meanwhile, will attempt to make a return to the state duals tournament for the first time in several years.
Following last week's finals loss to Woodland, Cass coach D.L. Koontz talked with his wrestlers.
"We had a talk about mental toughness and knowing our role, and they're kind of getting back to that," he said. "I'd say they're getting there. ... Their mind will be right. They'll be ready for whatever weight they're gonna be at."
In their last matches before the area duals tournaments, the Colonels defeated Etowah, 42-25, and Rome, 54-21, Tuesday on Alumni Night.
Though it has faced teams like Rome and Woodland, Cass has not seen many of the other area teams. To advance into the state duals, the path will be lined with good opponents.
"There's no doubt it's gonna take beating some quality teams," Koontz said of what it will take to return to the state duals. "For one, that whole group on the other side ... we really haven't seen and really haven't had the chance of hearing much about. There's always the what-if factor."
The Colonels coach said his wrestlers will need to understand that an individual loss may be a win for the team if they can avoid giving up big points via a pin or a major decision against them.
"Even though they may lose that still might be a win for us. If you're wrestling the defending state champ and you keep it to a minor, that's a pretty big [deal]," Koontz said. "Whatever they can do for the team, if they do that, everything will take care of itself."
Cass will not see the rival Wildcats early on but must go through them one way or another.
"We're gonna be opposite Woodland ... [but] it's the same half of the bracket. You're gonna have to eventually see each other anyway," Koontz said.
Just as Cass must contend with a state duals champion in its area, the Purple Hurricanes find themselves in the same boat with perennial power Gilmer, which also was state traditional champion last year.
Cartersville must wrestle better than it has all season, which has gotten off to a promising start.
"We really have to wrestle well, but I believe we can. I thoroughly believe that," Canes coach Garvin Edwards said.
While Gilmer and Heritage sit at the top two spots, Cartersville may just possess the overall depth to give itself a legitimate chance at the area duals tournament -- at least that's what Edwards will be counting on.
"I think we have some depth. Gilmer has good depth. There are a couple of other teams [that] I question their depth," he said. "That's what we're counting on, that there's gonna be a couple of teams that are gonna be lower and we're gonna be able to attack that."
This season is the second in a row where the Canes have been able to utilize a full complement of wrestlers, which has made a world of difference, their coach said.
"It's been a big difference. Last season was the first season we were able to get a full lineup, no holes in the lineup," Edwards added, noting that wrestlers entered the season at one weight class and have not had to move around. "Our kids haven't been bumping, or going up and down."
This weekend will go a long way toward telling if Cartersville is a better duals team this season.
"It's a war," Edwards said of the highly competitive area duals tournament. "You come in one [or] two [in] that one, it's tough."
Yet, the Canes' head coach has his team concentrating of taking its next step in a season predicated on improving from beginning to end.
"What I talked to the guys about is you want to finish the season stronger than you started. We've had some success early ... but I want to see them improve," Edwards said. "Going into this weekend, I want to see us better than we were than the last time we saw, let's say, Gilmer or Murray County.
"I believe we're gonna be better this weekend than we were last weekend and on down the line."
Cartersville will not be alone in its hopes that another week gone by may equal a more polished product on the mat the next time out.
Adairsville, coming off a last-place finish at the county duals tournament, gets a big-time stage to demonstrate whether its been able to work on its shortcomings -- wrestling more fluidly and intensely for all three periods among them, according to first-year coach Joey Harris.
"I feel like we just laid it out there -- we're gonna have to wrestle well to qualify [for state]," said Harris, whose Tigers are seeded fifth behind Calhoun, Rockmart, Sonoraville and North Murray. "They kind of know the deal. They know the situation, and we believe if we wrestle well ... we can get one of those top two spots. That's the thing -- we're gonna have to wrestle well."
"The intensity has been higher [in practice]. They know this has been one of the goals all season, to be one of the top two [teams]," he added. "They've responded well to the challenge."
Adairsville has a definite veteran presence with wrestlers like seniors Dalton Johnson, Virgil Gentry, Kevin Grimaldo, Ryan Hightower, Trey Gulledge and Aaron Wooldridge, a group that would love to leave its mark by helping the Tigers qualify for state duals.
"They feel like they've been a big part of getting the program where it is," Harris said. "For them, I think they would feel like they did their part for the rebirth of the program, so to speak. I think they'd feel a big sense of accomplishment."