COVINGTON - The Eastside wrestling team returns to the Class AAAA team duals today at the Macon Centreplex with more experience and more focus than in the past as the Eagles try to prove that they really are the best team in the state.
"Even though we're ranked No. 1, it's just a number, and that doesn't mean you'll win anything," Eastside coach Brandon Blakeman said. "Last year, they wanted it to be known they were No. 1, but they realize this year that the best way to let people know your No. 1 is to win state."
Before the Eagles can take the title, they must first get past a talented Marist team at 9 a.m. today.
Although Marist is not ranked in the coaches poll, it made it to the state duals as the No. 2 seed from Area 2-AAAA by beating No. 8-ranked Southwest DeKalb.
"The information I've gathered is that they're solid but they're not very technical," Blakeman said. "If we wrestle our type of match and don't get into a muscle match, we should be OK."
If Eastside can get past the War Eagles, they will face the winner of the Lee County/Effingham County match in the second round. Effingham County is ranked No. 9.
"Effingham County has really good light weights. A little bit like us, but ours are a little bit stronger," Blakeman said.
After that, if the Eagles are still in the winners bracket, they will go up against the team that eliminated them from the finals of the team duals last year - Stockbridge.
"We don't want to look past anybody, but we feel confident we could get to that matchup," Blakeman said. "I believe Stockbridge will get there and we'll see them, but they themselves have a very, very tough road."
Stockbridge, which is ranked No. 3 in the state, must get past No. 4-ranked Whitewater in the first round and the winner of Woodland-Bartow/Northwest Whitfield in the second round. Woodland beat No. 7-ranked Cherokee in its area tournament.
While everything looks good on paper for the Eagles, Blakeman knows that it's the wrestlers that will make things happen. He is hoping that the experience of his juniors and seniors will bring the elusive state title home.
"Last year, there were times we were too confident that we would win it that maybe we didn't take somebody serious or we got too worked up and it made us uptight," Blakeman said.
The Eastside seniors are Jamarcus Griggs (112 pounds), Trevor Bailey (135), David Bender (152) and Ardest Carter (189), while the juniors are Cody Durden (103), Joel Stafford (119), Michael Green (125), Brandon Cole (130), Jonathan Palmer (160) and Karl Williams (215).
While Durden is new to the Eastside wrestling team, he has been in this position before as a member of Newton's wrestling team for two years.
The other wrestler Blakeman is hoping to get major points from is sophomore Dalton Temple at 160.
"That's 11 of the 14. For us to have the success that we want, we'll have to come out of there with at least nine of the 11 getting their jobs done. The main key for us is to get back to what we used to do and that's pin. We took an example from last year," Blakeman said. "Whitewater wrestled Stockbridge in the team dual finals. Whitewater won eight of the 14 matches but Stockbridge pinned while Whitewater was winning on points. That made the difference. You can not win as many matches, but when you get those pins, the extra few points you can make matter."
The finals will be held at 7:45 p.m. Saturday. Consolation rounds will be held at 11 a.m. today and at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.