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Eastside looking to keep focus

COVINGTON - There is a certain amount of pride when it comes to Eastside wrestling.

The Eagles won the Class AAAA traditional state championship last year and were the dual runners-up. They also were Area 8-AAAA champions in 2006, '07 and '08.

As for this season - in a different classification - they have continued their path of excellence. Ranked No. 2 in the Georgia Wrestling Coaches Poll, Eastside is coming off its fourth straight area title.

Next stop, Macon, where Eastside will face No. 6 Heritage (Catoosa) in the opening round of the Class AAA dual championship.

"We were able to enjoy winning the area duals title over the weekend," Eastside coach Brandon Blakeman said. "The team enjoyed a barbecue on Sunday, but I reminded them that now is the time to get back to work. It was a great accomplishment, but I told the guys that we can't rest on our laurels."

It would be easy for the Eagles to become complacent based on all of their success. According to Blakeman, the key to maintaining the momentum is focus.

"The guys were extremely focused last weekend and performed to the best of their abilities," Blakeman said. "I believe if they can keep this mentality throughout the week, then they will have the best opportunity for success this weekend."

That focus and enthusiasm carried over to Monday's practice.

"I greatly appreciated the amount of work that I saw," Blakeman said. "I think everyone knows that championships are only won with maximum effort, whether that be in a dual or during practice.

"At this point, I think we have corrected all that we can, and in my opinion, the guys have positioned themselves to wrestle their best in Macon."

Yet Heritage (Catoosa) will be no cupcake, and is sprinkled with mounds of talent, highlighted by Zack Hopkins (145 pounds).

Hopkins - who wrestled for Ringgold last year - was the 2008 Class AAAA state champion at 135 pounds.

"A lot of the Heritage kids came from Ringgold, so we know they understand what it takes to perform well at the state duals," Blakeman said. "Heritage has some talented lighter weights, but Hopkins is one of the best wrestlers in the state."

However, Eastside has some standouts of its own, including seniors Trevor Bailey, Cody Durden, Michael Green, Jonathan Palmer, Joel Stafford and Tommy Williams.

According to Blakeman, the opportunity to return to the state dual finals has remained a priority.

"After last year's loss in the (dual) finals, our team has been very hungry for the chance at winning the title," he said. "Obviously, we must fight our way through the brackets and some quality teams just to have another shot at a championship, but I know that we have a team that is capable of winning it all."

Jason Murdock can be reached at jason.murdock@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: Wrestling

What: State dual championships

Where: Macon Centreplex, Macon

When: Friday and Saturday

Opening round:

· Eastside vs. Heritage (Catoosa)

· Rockdale vs. Rome