COVINGTON - Even though Eastside's wrestling team competes in an area weaker than the one it was in last year, the Eagles know they will have to battle just as hard if they want to keep their streak of team duals championships alive.
Eastside will shoot for its fourth straight title when Area 8-AAA has its round-robin tournament Friday and Saturday at Oconee County High School in Watkinsville.
This is the Eagles' first season in 8-AAA after claiming three straight Area 8-AAAA team dual titles.
Making the area a bit more competitive is the addition of Eastside, Morgan County - which moved up from Area 8-AA - and Jackson County, which came over with the Eagles from 8-AAAA.
"From what I hear, Morgan County has got a pretty good team," Eastside coach Brandon Blakeman said. "You also have to watch out for Jackson County. Oconee County has been the top team in the area for the last couple of years. (Area) 8-AAA has never been considered one of the more powerful areas, but with Jackson, Morgan and us coming in, that upped the value of the area."
Eastside competed against Oconee County in a tournament at Winder-Barrow, where the Eagles not only beat them, but they also won the event. The Warriors came in fourth.
While the Eagles do not have to battle teams like Loganville, Rockdale and Dacula, Blakeman said the Eagles have to do more than just show up and pick up their title.
"They still understand that there's business to be done," he said. "They don't want to mess up the chance to be a four-time area champ. That's hard to do. You've seen schools win it two times, three times in a sport. But to go four times, four times in a row, that means your senior group really pushed themselves.
"That's something of pride, especially for the seniors. A lot of them started as freshmen. It's not like they sat on junior varsity. Since they've been here, all they know are area titles."
Hoping to end their high school careers as dual champions are seniors Cody Durden, Joel Stafford, Trevor Bailey, Jonathan Palmer, Michael Green and Tommy Williams.
Despite the fact that the senior class is important to the outcome, Blakeman said it is really the juniors that are going to determine how they do.
"With the development of our junior class and the senior group being as strong as they are, I think it'll help us out in the area duals and next weekend in Macon," Blakeman said. "We teach our boys be confident, not cocky. We're confident we can make it to Macon. But we still have to go down to earn it ourselves."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.