State berths on the line at wrestling tournament

CONYERS - Grapplers from Rockdale and Newton counties are hitting the mats in an attempt to earn state berths as the Area 8-AAAA traditional wrestling tournament begins today at Winder-Barrow High School.

Last year, Eastside, Alcovy, Rockdale, Heritage and Salem sent a combined 27 wrestlers to the state tournament.

With the end of the line approaching for all wrestlers who don't finish in the top four in their weight class, the area coaches have been focusing on one last push for state.

"As far as preparation goes for this weekend's area tournament, we have been refocusing on our conditioning," said Eastside coach Brandon Blakeman. "We have only had a handful of matches since team state, and since we had wrestled so much before team state, I knew that our main focus going into this weekend would be our conditioning."

"I hear people talk all the time about peaking. Personally, I have stressed to my team that the whole 'peaking' debate is nothing more than an excuse for those who weren't prepared. The majority of my team wrestles year-round, so when would they peak? They have trained their bodies to be used to the physical challenges presented by wrestling for all times of the year. I remind the guys all the time that a true champion will be a champion regardless of the situation or point in time of the season.

"A lot of my guys have been area champs and state qualifiers in past seasons, so the main thing they must do is remain focused and not become comfortable with past success. Many times, those that reach the top relax once they get there, when in actuality, they must now begin to work harder to keep their position at the top."

Since this is Eastside's last stint in 8-AAAA before moving to 8-AAA, Blakeman said his team wants to leave a lasting impression.

"As a team, we have two goals: win our third consecutive individual area title and qualify 12 wrestlers for state," he said. "Since this is our last year in 8-AAAA, the boys are determined to leave the area in the same position they have been over the past three seasons - No. 1."

Rockdale coach Craig Hargrove also is hoping his team has a solid showing at area.

"The guys know what they want to do, and the ultimate goal is to qualify for state," he said. "The main thing we're trying to do is get them to wrestle with a lot of heart, put it all together and have the performance they want. If we put those things together, we'll get the results we want. We just have to go out there each match, be aggressive for six minutes and wrestle hard."

Heritage coach Randy Hooley also has been working hard in preparation for the area tournament.

"Preparation for the tournament has been going really well," he said. "The loss at the Conyers Cup has opened the eyes of the team. They did not take Rockdale seriously and lost the cup. They now understand that nothing is ever guaranteed. Tournaments are made for upsets, and I have a feeling that there may be some this weekend. The team is peaking in some weight classes and we are finally getting back some wrestlers that have been out for a while.

"To maximize our state qualifiers and area champions, we must take each match like it is our last. We must take advantage of any opportunities that arrive. If we wrestle to the ability that I have seen them in the past, we should place high as a team and put many into the state tournament the next weekend. The team has set a goal of placing in the top four this weekend, and many of the individuals have set their own goals to win area or qualify for the state tournament."

Salem is the only local school that returns a state champion in Peter Yates. But Salem coach Tim Owens knows the area tournament is about getting as many wrestlers as possible qualified for state.

"Prep seems to be going OK," he said. "There's really no way to know until they actually wrestle. I hope we got the cobwebs out of our system at the Conyers Cup. Everyone has to wrestle their best from the first match at area all the way through. The longer you can stay on the winners' side of the bracket, the more your chances improve. Losing your first match and coming through the wrestle backs is not the way you want to go. We have to wrestle every match like it's our last and don't let up."

Brandon Evans can be reached at brandon.evans@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If You Go

What: Area 8-AAAA traditional wrestling tournament

Where: Winder-Barrow High School

When: Today, Saturday