Before looking ahead to this weekend’s state tournament — which begins Thursday with weigh-ins and round of 16 matches — here is a team-by-team look at how wrestlers fared at sectionals.
Cartersville Purple Hurricanes
Though the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes had the lowest number of sectional qualifiers from the county, they once again flaunted their top-notch quality with all three of their wrestlers getting through to the next phase of the traditional tournament season.
Ty Downer placed fifth at 132 pounds, Hans Navarette sixth at 145 and Jake Johnson sixth at 160.
Cartersville coach Garvin Edwards watched as his wrestlers faced the best competition they’ve seen all season last Friday and Saturday at the Class AAA West Sectional at Riverwood High in Atlanta.
“I was extremely proud of ’em because of the level of competition that was there. Ty and Hans ended up wrestling five times in the course of those two days, and those five matches were as tough as any five matches we’ve had all yearlong and we did go to some good tournaments [throughout the year],” Edwards said. “This year being their senior year, I couldn’t be more proud of them for their effort, and they certainly earned their way to get to the state tournament. That’s what we’re the most proud of.”
“It’s just a testament to their work ethic. Both of those guys work hard. They practice hard. They get extra work in,” he continued. “They’ve always been a big part of our program, the success we’ve had.”
While Downer and Navarette had an opportunity to wrestle beyond a few matches, Johnson’s weekend was cut short when the defending state champion hit the mat hard in the championship bracket semifinals, a match he had been leading 5-4 in the third period. Trainers advised Edwards to injury default Johnson the rest of the way, leading to his eventual finish.
“The best thing to do at that point was to pull him out and qualify and let him move on [to state],” Edwards acknowledged. “He had a mishap, a misfortune there, but he’s going to move on to the next level and I know come this weekend he’s going to be in top form.”
Last season, Johnson and former Cane wrestler Tate Murray entered the west sectional as the only qualifiers for Cartersville but wound up getting to state where they both won championships. This year, the Canes carry one extra wrestler into the season’s final weekend.
“We’re just extremely proud of those three guys and what they were able to do [last] weekend,” Edwards said.
Cass coach D.L. Koontz had hoped, like all coaches do, to take each of his 10 sectional qualifiers to the state tournament, but the Colonels were able to accomplish something few can claim.
“[I’m] extremely proud of them [for] the fact that we were one of the few teams that took everybody down and got everybody to qualify,” said Koontz, whose team was down to nine after a skin check knocked out one wrestler before the Class AAAA West Sectional at Northside-Columbus High ever began. “For those guys to wrestle as well as they did and make sure they did everything we needed to [qualify and give us a chance at state] … it showed how much they wanted to be there.”
Qualifying for Cass were Austin Buffaloe (132, first), Alec Rivera (106, second), Sammy Rosario (120, second), Rashad Williams (113, fourth), Montavious Parker (195, fourth), Mark Morton (220, sixth), Douglas Nuckols (126, seventh), Tommy Klaus (138, seventh) and Ronnie Lafollette (160, eighth).
Adding to the Colonels’ impressive 9-for-9 performance is the fact that the west sectional may be as tough as it gets in Class AAAA. Teams in the east sectional may have qualified a higher number of their wrestlers, but Koontz noted that the overall quality from top to bottom likely pales in comparison.
Things will be at their toughest this weekend in Duluth, but the Cass coach pointed out that it doesn’t matter who you’re matched up with at this time of the season.
“If every kid’s got dreams of being the state champion, it doesn’t matter who’s ranked where. Every single year there’s a tournament spoiler,” Koontz added. “At this point in time, it really is [about] how bad do you want it.”
As long as his wrestlers go out and leave everything on the mat, the coach will be pleased no matter what.
“I’m already pretty proud of what they’ve done so far,” Koontz said.
One of the objectives was met for Woodland at the Class AAAA West Sectional, where the Wildcats placed eight of their 10 qualifiers into the state tournament.
However, coach Adrian Tramutola’s other objective for his team last weekend was to have as many guys finish as high as possible. In that regard, Tramutola said, “I don’t know if we accomplished that from top to bottom.
Chad Hawkins (106) took home a sectional championship and Zach Culver (126) was a runner-up, but beyond that, there were many seventh- and eighth-place finishes for Woodland, which also qualified Jake Huffine (113, seventh), Lee Cash (138, eighth), Zach Frye (145, seventh), Jordy Henson (152, eighth), Twan Terrell (170, seventh) and Isiah Ross (182, seventh).
Even more surprising than that may have been the possible elimination of Clint Lemon, who won the Area 7-AAAA championship at 195 but won’t be able to compete in state unless one of the eight guys in front of him has to withdraw from state.
“We lost one of our better kids, Clint Lemon, who’s a senior,” Tramutola said. “That was a huge setback for us, I thought, with [our] hopes of a team title.”
With a bittersweet weekend behind them, the Wildcats try to refocus with the knowledge that seeds — however low they may be — are even more useless at this time of the wrestling season than at any other.
“We have a couple of kids that are seventh seeds and they’re matched up with kids [from the other sectional] that are second seeds that they’ve already beaten,” Tramutola said. “Once you get there, crazy things happen — not necessarily the 14 best guys win. … [It comes down to] who’s had the best three days. That’s who’s gonna win the tournament.
“There a lot of individual accomplishments for these kids to try to go out there [and get].”
There still remains a rather large team goal for Woodland, which is looking to improve upon last year’s 11th-place finish.
“Eight champs would win the tournament pretty easily, but I don’t know how realistic that is,” Tramutola said.
With eight guys making their way to Blessed Trinity in Roswell, Adairsville stood a fighting chance to get all eight wrestlers through. The Tigers wound up with six state qualifiers and could have seven if one alternate gets an opportunity.
Tyler James (106, fourth), Kevin Grimaldo (113, fourth), Virgil Gentry (120, fifth), Trey Gulledge (160, second), Dalton Johnson (220, first) and Ryan Hightower (285, sixth) qualified, and Hayden Randolph (126, ninth) is an alternate.
“For the most part, they wrestled as expected. We really thought going in that all eight had a chance to qualify, and Hayden came up a little short. He’s real disappointed. And Charlie Silvers at 195, he was 2 seconds from being guaranteed top eight. It went to the ultimate tiebreaker … guy escaped with about a second and a half [left],” Adairsville coach Joey Harris said. “Not a whole lot changed. They’ve been wrestling with the same intensity, same purpose.”
Harris’s guys know that the upcoming weekend is the one that will be for all the marbles.
“The ultimate goal was not [last] weekend. I think they have the right mindset, and I look forward to this weekend. I think all six that are going can win some matches and, depending on matchups, even place,” Harris said. “It’s a tough road to climb, but we got some guys with experience, so it shouldn’t be a shell shock for Dalton, Virgil, Kevin, even ‘Jesse’ — Tyler — he went as a freshman.”