COVINGTON - After winning the Class AAAA traditional state wrestling championship last season, the Eastside wrestling team is ready to take on new challengers.
Whether the Eagles wrestle in Class AAAA or Class AAA, they are not sitting on last year's accomplishments.
"We don't look much into the idea of 'defending state champions.' We celebrated last year's success, but that time is over. The focus now becomes being the best team we can be for the upcoming season," Eastside coach Brandon Blakeman said. "If we spend too much time romanticizing about the past, we will set ourselves up for failure in the future."
Moving to Area 8-AAA probably made it easier for the Eagles to reach two of their four goals.
The weaker area should enable Eastside to become the Area 8-AAA dual and Area 8-AAA traditional champions.
By winning those two, it will help them win the other two titles - Class AAA duals and traditional.
However, the move may not prepare the Eagles for the tougher competition with weaker teams in the area.
"It's hard to say what impact the new region will have on the team," Blakeman said. "Area 8-AAA has not been known as one of the power wrestling regions, but I expect the teams currently in 8-AAA to step their game up now that we are in this region."
The one exception to the weaker area is Jackson County, who moved down to Area 8-AAA with Eastside.
"They will provide stiff competition as always and would be considered our primary competition," Blakeman added.
Although they will not be challenged in area matches, Blakeman will make sure kids wrestlers get put to the test.
Some of the tournaments Eastside will participate in include the South Metro, the Red Devil Classic and the Rockdale Duals.
"I think for the first time one of strengths lies in our senior leadership," Blakeman said. "This year's seniors have really taken it upon themselves to motivate the rest of the team so that no one loses sight of what it is we are trying to accomplish. They have been extremely helpful both on and off the mat, and I am looking forward to watching the culmination of their careers."
Returning for their senior year are Cody Durden (112, 119 weight division), Joel Stafford (125), Michael Green (130), Trevor Bailey (135, 140), Jonathan Palmer (160), Tommy Williams (189) and Phillip King (285).
Back on the team from last year's state championship team are Dalton Bragg (135, 140) and Dalton Temple (171).
New to this year's team are Danny Gatt (112, 119), Andrew Green (135, 140), Jake Malcolm (145), Johnathan Hilley (152) and Kevyn Agudo (215).
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
Who: Eastside Eagles wrestling
Coach: Brandon Blakeman (third year)
Last year's highlights: Area 8-AAAA dual and traditional champions; Class AAAA traditional state champion
First match: 9 a.m. today at home against Ola, Griffin and Elbert County
Key returning wrestlers: Cody Durden, Joel Stafford, Michael Green, Dalton Bragg, Trevor Bailey, Jonathan Palmer, Dalton Temple, Tommy Williams and Phillip King.