With state team duals out of the way, the final two weeks of the 2020-21 GHSA wrestling season will focus on crowning individual champions with the region and state traditional tournaments. And Apalachee and Winder-Barrow both are looking to send through at least a couple wrestlers each to the state tournament in Macon next week.
The Wildcats will compete in the Region 8-AAAAA tournament Saturday, Feb. 6, at Loganville High School, while the Bulldoggs will take part in the Region 8-AAAAAA tournament Saturday at Habersham Central High School.
The top three wrestlers in each weight class will qualify for next week’s state traditional tournament in Macon (The Class 6A state tournament is set for Feb. 11-12 and the 5A tournament is Feb. 12-13). Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the GHSA scrapped the traditional sectionals and expanded the state brackets from 16 to 24 wrestlers in each weight class per classification. But with one fewer wrestler getting past region, that raises the stakes somewhat for wrestlers this weekend.
Two Apalachee girls have already qualified for state — including junior Samantha Hauff, who is 14-0 and ranked 18th nationally at 144 pounds by FloWrestling, and Karli Muhaw.
In the interim between region duals Jan. 16 and this weekend, the Wildcats picked up a match against Johnson and otherwise have been “staying away from people and just trying to stay healthy” heading into the traditional tournament, Apalachee coach Randy Hill said.
“I hope we can do well this weekend, but the region this year is pretty tough,” Hill said. “There’s a lot of good teams, but hopefully we can get a couple guys through.”
Senior Hunter Noblett, a fifth-place state finisher at 160 pounds in Class 6A last year and a region champion as a sophomore, will be vying for the region title this weekend at 182 pounds, while junior Isaiah Skinner is a returning state qualifier and region champ and will be gunning for a region title at 152.
“Those two we feel pretty good about, and the rest of these guys are just going to have to wrestle some really good matches against people in the region who have already beaten them,” Hill said. “We’ve had a lot fewer matches this year due to COVID, which has meant less time for them to learn. So they’ve just got to show up and do really well.”
Meanwhile, Winder-Barrow is coming off a senior night win over East Jackson last week and will look to get at least a couple wrestlers through to state. Bulldoggs coach David Garrett said returning state qualifier Mason Bell at 120 pounds, Chris Walker (138) and Peter Nava (195) are likely in the best positions to qualify.
“Hopefully with some luck, a few others will, too,” Garrett said. “It’s win or go home for these guys now, and I think they’ve got a shot if they continue to do what they’ve been doing, which is fight, compete and not give up. They’re good kids all the way around.”