By Stephen Black
The GHSA traditional state wrestling tournament takes place Friday and Saturday at the Macon Centreplex. Six classifications will decide state champions at the event, as Class A awards just one.
Being the last meet of the school year means the traditional tournament holds a special importance. Coaches and teams want to close out the season in a positive way.
“There’s five seniors this year and I want them to go out on top and they want to go out on top,” Pope coach Jim Haskin said. “The whole team wants to go out on top, so that’s a good thing for the program. It steers people in the right direction for the future.”
Archer coach Tom Beuglas agrees. Despite winning the duals tournament last month like Pope, Beuglas’ team wants this one even more.
“Obviously, winning the duals was one of our two goals for the season but I’ve told them all along, everybody remembers what happens last,” Beuglas said. “We kind of put that (the duals) behind us pretty quick. I’m not going to lie, (the traditional meet) is big.”
While the duals tournament is strictly a team-oriented event, the traditional meet puts the individual first. However, there is still a team concept and goal.
“When you get to the traditional, it’s every man for himself,” Haskin described. “It becomes all about you. The onus is put on the man, the one guy. We also build on when you perform and do what you’re supposed to do, the team wins out as well.”
And Haskin knows how it feels to leave on top, as he has guided the Greyhounds to four state titles including the past two traditional championships. Pope has also won the past two duals titles.
With so much recent success, Haskin has to find ways to keep his Class AAAAA program motivated to just maintain the status quo rather than reaching for the top.
“When you get to a point where you’re starting to win championships, whether it’s Cobb County championships or a state championship, you want to continue that tradition,” Haskin said. “That’s important to them, to the coaches, to the community and everybody involved. That’s a big part of it, continuing tradition.”
While Pope is looking to “three-peat,” Archer is trying to win the first traditional title in school history. The Tigers won their first wrestling state championship ever last month in the duals, but this meet provides different challenges.
“Anywhere you can pick up a point here or a point here, they all matter,” Beuglas stated. “The biggest thing is to get more kids on the podium than anybody else. If you can place eight, nine, 10 kids in the top six, you going to be hard to beat.”
With a first-place finish this weekend, the Class AAAAAA Tigers would be the first program to sweep the duals and traditional titles within the first four years of the program’s start. Beuglas took over at Archer four years ago after 15 season with Parkview. Now, he has a state title under his belt and a nationally-ranked program.
“The first year, we went out and got any person we could get and preached to them to buy into it and commit yourself to wrestling year round and work hard, when you’re a senior, we have a chance to (win state),” he remembered. “We’ve got nine seniors, and they’ve all bought into it.”
Beuglas hopes this will not be the end of Archer success, but the beginning.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids so I feel like we’re not really ending, we’re just getting started.”
In Class AAAA, the odds-on favorite is Gilmer, the three-time reigning duals champion and winners of two of the past three traditional titles. Coach Sam Snider’s Bobcats are led by five grapplers who won titles in the rugged Area 7 traditional tournament: Marcelino Lopez, Cameron Perry, Johnie Flakes, Jared Sweat and J.P. Pritchett. Heritage-Catoosa, however, won last year’s traditional title while duals-finalist Alexander could pose a threat to Gilmer.
Pope will be the team to beat once again in Class AAAAA. All-everything wrestler and Air Force signee Brooks Climmons will anchor the Pope lineup while Preston Markwell, Tyler Haskin , T.J. Collins, Davis Burson, Jonny Sexton, Jake Henson, Billy Meek, Zeke Weber, Joey Tabachino and Taylor Howard each had wins for the Greyhounds in the duals finals. Woodland-Bartow and Whitewater are ranked second and third, respectively, according to the Score Atlanta/AJC poll.
In the state’s largest classification, Archer heads a three-headed monster of state contenders, along with Collins Hill and Camden County. The Tigers, however, beat Camden County in the duals finals 35-19 and qualified all 14 wrestlers for the traditional meet.
Duals champion Banks County will again battle Woodward Academy for the state title after upsetting the War Eagles in Macon last month. Banks County coach Kasey Hanley, in his eighth season, led his team to a 34-33 win over Woodward at the duals. Woodward Academy counters with record-setting Chad Pyke, an N.C. State signee who set the national record with wins during a career with 326. The War Eagles qualified 11 for the traditional finals.
In Class AA, Jefferson is expected to win its 13th straight traditional title while Class A should be another barnburner between Gordon Lee and Holy Innocents’. Last winter, the teams split the duals title due to a dispute that was settled by a GHSA vote. Gordon Lee won this year’s duals over Holy Innocents’ and qualified 13 wrestlers for the traditional meet while Holy Innocents’ saw 11 make the cut. Neither team has won a traditional title, as Bremen, now in Class AA, and Jefferson combined to win them all since 2000.