Area Sports...

FEBRUARY 25, 2004

No Shocker At State
Southwest Atlanta Christian Dunks CHS In First-Round Of Class A Tourney
The “Hoosiers” sequel will have to wait.
Fifty years ago, little Milan (Ind.) High School shocked powerhouse Muncie Central in the Indiana state tournament in a monumental upset that spawned the classic basketball flick.
Pitted against similar (or maybe worse) odds Friday night, Commerce had no encore performance.
And who could blame them?
Top-ranked Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy (SACA) and their main attraction, NBA prospect Dwight Howard, showed why they’ve created a buzz on the national level, downing the undersized Tigers 83-38 in the first round of the Class A state tournament in Hiawassee.
“I’ve seen better basketball teams but they’re the best Class A team I’ve ever seen,” Commerce head coach Rex Gregg said.
The loss ended the Tigers’ season at 11-15.
Regardless of the lopsided defeat, Gregg said it was an accomplishment for the program to get back into the state tournament after a frustrating 2-18 ordeal last winter.
“We’re tickled with the turnaround given last season,” he said.
Now, the key is building upon the post season appearance.
Next year, the team will return its top three scorers — Randolph, Caleb Jordan and Nick Slayton — but will need to find a floor leader as the Tigers lose guards Casha Daniels and David Evans.
“If we can find a point guard to lead them and maybe we’ll get a chance to go back to


Diamond days are here again
The Banks County Diamond Leopards will kick off their season Monday, March 1, at a home game against rival Commerce.
For the second year in a row, Banks County will start the season with a game against Commerce. This year, the first of two games against the Tigers will be at home at the Banks County Parks and Recreation Department. Commerce will host the second game on Wednesday, March 3. Both games will start at 4:30 p.m.
The Leopards defeated the Tigers last year, 4-2, at the season opener.
“Commerce is a big rival and we never want to lose to them,” said Banks County Coach Mike Williams. “But, they don’t like to lose to us either.”
The team started practice over two weeks ago, 37 students came out for try-outs and they were cut down by 10. The 27 who remain will fill both the varsity and junior varsity teams. The group is composed mostly of underclassmen, only seven seniors and three juniors will play this year.
Despite losing five seniors at last year’s graduation, Williams has high expectations of the team.
“Some of the sophomores will have to pull double-duty,” said Williams. “They are going to have to step up and help us this year and in the future.”
The sophomores won’t have to do it all alone. Five returning seniors have been in the program for four years.
“The senior group is an overall great group, they are a big plus athletically and they are all good kids,” said Williams.
Two of the five returning batted in the top six last year. Catcher, Tyson Baxter, had 18 runs, two of which were home runs. Baxter also stole 12 bases, had 12 RBI’s and a batting average of .333. Jacob Williams will also return to the team with some serious experience. Williams had 10 runs, 16 RBI’s and a batting average of .292 last year.
The Diamond Leopards may be ready, but they have some tough competition. Greater Atlanta Christian was runner-up at state last year, the teams will meet first on March 30. Coach Williams said Wesleyan and Providence could be hard to beat also.


One more makes it four
Six state champions help lead the way to Jefferson’s fourth-straight state title
If there were any doubts about who the best Class A wrestling team in Georgia was heading into last weekend’s traditional state championships they were certainly dispelled following the event.
Thanks to a superb effort that landed eight Jefferson wrestlers in finals, the Dragons won their fourth consecutive traditional title in Class A, outdistancing second-place Bremen by 29.5 points in the team standings.
“That was exactly what we were looking for and it turned out about as good as it possibly could have,” Jefferson head coach Doug Thurmond said.
Saturday’s win at Jefferson High School came thanks in large part to six of those eight finalists claiming individual crowns in their respective weight divisions. Seniors Daniel Love (171) and Jason Fields (152) led the way with individual crowns that capped off stellar careers in Dragon red and blue. In addition, the team’s senior class became the only group in school history to win a state title in each of their four seasons at JHS.
Others taking home individual state crowns for the Dragons were Caleb Beckwith (103), Kyle Baird (112), J.J. Brushaber (145), and Forrest Garner (160).
Enrique Zavaleta (119) and Marc Baskett (215) also advanced to finals and added second-place points to the Jefferson total of 267.5.
“That’s awesome, it was just awesome because a couple of those kids were not returning state champions,” Thurmond explained.
The title came just two weeks after also holding off the No. 2 Blue Devils for the state duals crown in what was an extremely tight affair that saw each team win seven matches. The difference that weekend was in the number of pin victories, and that was once again a factor — albeit not as big a one — last Saturday.
The championship concluded the third straight season Jefferson has swept both the duals and traditional crowns, a mark that is unprecedented in the GHSA for Class A.
Bremen saw three wrestlers of their own capture state crowns, but was 0-3 in finals matches against Jefferson. The Dragons were able to dominate from 145 pounds to 171 pounds, where they picked up state titles in each of the four weight divisions.
Jefferson led by 12.5 points heading into the finals, but the margin was cut to 9.5 heading into the 145-pound finals. In that final however, Jefferson’s J.J. Brushaber secured a win thanks to a tactical performance in a victory over Bremen’s Justin Shadrix. Fields and Garner then followed Brushaber’s lead with victories against Blue Devil wreslters. Fields outlasted Josh West for the 152-pound crown 5-3, and Garner then dominated Dustin Barber, winning via pin in the first period.
Love put the icing on the cake and brought the largely homesided crowd to a frenzy with a first period pin of Bowdon’s Josh Sprewell to win the 171-pound title and wrap up the night for the Dragons.
For several Dragons, winning individual state crowns helped to exorcise some past demons. Both Beckwith and Fields were denied state crowns in the finals last season. Fields was a 145-pound grappler last year, but he moved up a division in 2004. Love’s state title came after a third-place showing at 171 pounds a season ago.
Garner was the only returning state champion with Jefferson last year. The junior has now won three straight individual crowns, one more would tie the school record set by his brother Hunter in 2003 of four in a row.
For Thurmond the highlight of the night was seeing two of his longtime seniors, Fields and Love capture their first indiviual state titles.
“Daniel Love had such a great season last year, but then he got hurt right before state....when he won it this year it was elating. And before that Jason (Fields) came through after all his hard work and won. Seeing those two seniors win it after all those years with us was just awesome. It’s nice seeing somebody come through the program and meet their goal.”


Panther season ends after state tourney showing
For the Jackson County wrestling program, the future looks bright. But, last weekend at the Class AAAA state wrestling championships some growing pains still needed to be endured.
After taking five grapplers to the Rome, Ga. event, the Panthers saw all but one wrestler win a match, however none ended up placing.
But that matters little according to head coach Roger Powers, who instead continued to focus on the positives of a program that was rebuilding this year.
Thanks to the loss of just one senior from this year’s state qualifiers, and 11-of-14 returning starters from the team as a whole, the future should be a favorable one for the Panthers.
“I’m really looking forward to next season with all of the guys we have returning,” Powers said.
One of the first things the Jackson County skipper said he hopes to deal with for the 2004-05 campaign will be adding a 32-team tournament to the schedule. That, he says, may help to do away the awe that the Panthers may have experience last weekend, as the size of the 32-man fields his grapplers went up against was a bit overwhelming.
“When you get there and you have 32 men in your bracket that can sometimes be pretty overwhelming if you’re not used to it,” Powers explained. “So hopefully we can find (a tournament) like that next year before state.”
Of the five grapplers to qualify for last weekend’s state tournament, Robert McVay (160) and Jeff Looney (171) faired the best. Each grappler went 3-2 for the tournament, with Looney capturing arguably the best wins of the event for the Panthers.
Two of his three wins came against area champions. He knocked off Area 8 champion Cragin 15-3 and defeated Area 6 champion Dwayne Huffman as well.
“Jeff wrestled real well for us,” Powers said. “He went up there and knocked off two area champions after finishing third in our area, so that was good.”
The weekend’s results left Looney with a 42-15 record on the season, while McVay finished with an overall mark of 39-11. Those two wrestlers should once again be at the top of the Jackson County lineup again next season.
The lone senior among last weekend’s qualifiers was 130-pounder Chris Autry. He went 2-2 at the Rome event and finishes his final season with the Panthers at 39-16.
John Schimmel (103) also recorded a victory over the weekend. He finished the season at 37-21. Spence Gaskins (125) failed to win a match in two attempts at state, however the junior still managed to finish above .500 (26-24) on the year.
Of the 72 teams competing at the event, Jackson County finished 47th overall as a team, with just the five wrestlers competing.
“When you talk about doing well at state you’ve got to carry numbers,” Powers said. “So hopefully we can get a few more guys there next year. But, we did pretty good, not outstanding, but okay. It’s not too bad for taking just five guys. I’m pretty well pleased.”
Jackson County’s area (Area 8) was represented well, with three teams finishing in the top nine overall. Loganville faired the best, taking fourth overall.


Twice as nice
Arnold top dog again in 189-lb. classification with second-straight title
Madison County wrestling coach Steve Mason can distinctly recall his first meeting with Mark Arnold two years ago.
And the impression wasn’t who of a kid that would go on to become one of the best wrestlers in Madison County history.
“He was just a little short, fat butterball,” the third-year coach joked.
What a difference two years can make.
Arnold has grown from a chubby sophomore to a young man who’s now a two-time state champion, winning his second straight 189-lb. title this past Saturday in Rome to culminate a stellar Raider career.
The state title caps a 47-1 senior season and brings his overall record to 132-14. In addition to the pair of state championships, Arnold also has two area titles to his credit.
Mason said soon after his initial meeting with Arnold, he realized that the “butterball” sophomore was something special.
“When we actually started practice, he worked his tail off,” Mason recalled. “He seemed to learn more than the rest. In two years we’ve done a lot of work. I’ve wrestled with him so much ... He has the heart of a champion. He does whatever it takes to win.”
That drive resulted in another championship Saturday as Arnold defended his title in the stacked 189-lb.class with a pin over North Forsyth’s Matt Nelson in the Rome Forum to take state gold again.
Repeating the moment certainly didn’t dull the emotions.
“Twice as nice as the first one,” Arnold said.
Indeed, since Arnold became Madison County’s second two-time champion with the win. Terrence Grant accomplished the feat in 1993 and 1994.
“I think this one means more in meeting a school record,” Arnold said in between congratulatory hand shakes and hugs from family and friends.
Mason said Arnold’s performance all year in a weight division that’s perhaps the toughest in the state regardless of classification was remarkable given the expectations that he had to deal with.
“There was so much pressure this year for him to repeat that he kind of went out there and wrestled not to lose," Mason said. "I think that shows how good he really is. Most times when someone does that, they get beat. He went out and won every time.”
Arnold secured the title in the third period against Nelson — who came into match with a 50-5 record — pinning him with about a minute remaining.
He had already beaten Nelson before in the season, pinning him in the second period of that match.
“He’s a tough guy,” Arnold said of his opponent. “ ... He stepped it up this time and took it to the third (period).”
Arnold’s match was the sixth of the championship rounds. He had to wait through the 103, 275, 112, 215 and 119-lb. finals before taking to the mat.
While his wait wasn’t the longest, watching though five matches made him anxious.
“Yeah, it was pretty nerve-racking,” he said.
Arnold’s biggest win of the tournament, however, came in the quarterfinals where the brackets paired him with East Paulding’s Garrett Guy, regarded as the other top 189-lb. wrestler in the state.
Arnold prevailed 2-1 in double overtime.
“It was a very exciting match,” Mason said. “It wasn’t high scoring. But there was a lot of good defense. The guys were really going at it.”
Arnold’s title was all part of a school-best seventh-place team finish by the Raider grapplers.
Also medaling were Walker Overstreet, who took fourth in the 130-lb. class, and Kevin Cash, who placed fifth in the 160-lb. division.
Mason said Overstreet’s finish was remarkable given that he jumped five weight classes this year.
“To go from 103 to 130 and finish as high as he did is outstanding,” he said. “Most the time when you jump five weight classes, you don’t even have a winning record, let alone place at state.”
Cash suffered an overtime loss to the eventual state champion in the 160-lb. class but was able to bounce back and place in the tournament.
Mason said that took grit.
“After losing, you don’t even want to think about wrestling but he came back and got fifth. He’s just a great kid.”
Mason also pointed out that Jim Myrick, Tyler Johnson and Conrad Carey also had noteable performances at state. Myrick went 5-2 while Johnson and Carey went 3-2.
Overall, the coach said he was proud of the collective effort of a team that was short-handed this year.
“For the team we hand this year, we did awesome.”
Now the challenge its to keep getting better, something all Mason’s teams have done from one year to the next.
“We’ll be young,” he said. “We’ll have a lot of work to do in the offseason to keep at a high level. I think we can be pretty good. It all depends on how hard they want to work.”

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