CONYERS - A little more than a month into the season, a trio of local wrestling squads will face their first true test.
The Area 8-AAAA Duals are set to begin for Heritage, Rockdale and Salem at Clarke Central - a two-day event that should give them a clear indication of where they stand on the mat.
"Well, I don't know how it's going to shake out as far as how everybody is going to be ranked, but I'm expecting Rockdale and Loganville to be one and two and probably Heritage three," Salem coach Tim Owens said. "I just want the guys who should win or have a chance to win to do well, and for the new guys to get experience.
"If the opportunity presents itself, then they can win."
Ranked No. 4 according to the Georgia Coaches Wrestling Poll, Rockdale (20-3 overall) is the early favorite to take the title.
Coached by Craig Hargrove, the Bulldogs are led by varsity wrestlers Jake Morris (103/112 pounds), Luis Ponce (125/130), Kafuba Donzon (160) and Jimmy Brown (171).
Meanwhile, Heritage's senior class comprised of Cody Shubert (119), Steven Crawley (125), Michael Alfano (152), Austin Heath (140) and David Plunkett (160) is hoping to make some noise on the mat for coach Randy Hooley.
"The seniors will play a big part in the success of the team this weekend," Hooley said. "They need to step up and be leaders for the younger guys. I possibly can have six freshmen starting this weekend, so keeping them focused in on the prize will be crucial."
According to Hooley, Heritage's biggest strength has been its heart and sheer determination thus far.
"My expectations is that they will leave everything they have on the mat; they will not give up," he said. "This is a very determined team when they have a goal in their sights."
However, injuries have not only hampered the Seminoles, but the Patriots, as well.
"The biggest concern is the injury bug," Hooley said. "Injuries at this time of the year can really hurt a team's chance of moving on to the next level. Another concern is that we wrestle smart. We have a very young team, so adrenaline will play a big part in the outcome of the matches."
Fortunately, one team not standing in these three schools' way this year is Eastside. Before the Eagles were reclassified, they won three straight championships. Last season in Athens, they pinned both Alcovy and Dacula before capturing the area title.
Despite lack of experience, Owens is optimistic.
"We don't really have any concerns," he said, "but we've got so many new folks and not a lot of varsity experience. We're young; it's going to be tough to compete real well."
According to Owens, grapplers Joe Morovich and Ian Camp are just two of several experienced Seminoles who must have a good showing this weekend.
"Right now we've got a couple of folks hurt and a couple of other things too, so it's going to be real difficult for us to come through on this," Owens admitted. "But we're just going to have to do the best we can and get a win where we can get it, and on top of that try to get some area seeds."
The area duals begin at 5 p.m. today at Clarke Central. It continues at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.