Both Winder-Barrow High School and Apalachee High School will be well-represented at the upcoming state wrestling tournament.
The WBHS Mat Bulldoggs had five wrestlers qualify for the state finals while the AHS Mat Wildcats will be sending four grapplers to Macon this week.
For WBHS Mason Bell (106), Chas Ferm (160), Nathan Allen (182), Rousseau O Asu Abang (195) and Jacob Merrifield (285) all qualified at state sectionals by finishing in the top eight of their respective weight class.
Asu Abang was third while Ferm, Allen and Merrifield were each sixth. Bell finished eighth place in his weight class.
WBHS coach Matt Patton said this will be the most wrestlers the program has sent to state in approximately a decade. The coach said he was pleased with how his athletes performed at sectionals.
“Nathan was lights out and really could have finished higher,” Patton said. “Chas was a little banged up but he has the potential to earn some upsets at state. Rousseau was one match away from placing last year. Mason and Jacob will be competing (at state) for the first time.”
The state wrestling tournament will be Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 13-15.
“Our wrestlers just have to go out and compete to the best of their ability,” Patton said. “Our wrestlers are set to upset some opponents. One thing they will have to adjust to is the larger venue. It will be different from wrestling in a high school gym.”
For AHS and coach Randy Hill, the state contingent will be led by Hunter Noblett, who finished fourth at 160, while Isaiah Skinner (126) and Bryson Ferguson (145) were fifth in their respective weight classes at sectionals. Levi Norbett (122) finished ninth at sectionals and is an alternate for the state finals.
Sam Hauff became Apalachee High School’s first female sectional champion and first female wrestler to qualify for state. Hauff competes in the 142-pound division and has wrestled both male and female opponents this season, her coach said.
“I’m super excited for qualifying for state this year especially since I am the first female from Apalachee to ever do so,” Hauff said. “This season has been amazing. It’s my first season wrestling and I don’t think I could find any other sport to be more passionate about.”
Hauff said belief in herself has helped her accomplish what she has this wrestling season.
“Being a female in a male dominated sport can be tough at times,” she said. “It’s like having the world around you doubt you and think you won’t compare. You just have to realize for yourself that it’s not about proving to them that you are worth it, but proving to yourself that you are.”
Hauff said her teammates and coaches have all been supportive. In her first tournament she earned a pin against a two-time state champion. She would go on to win that tournament.
As the season progressed Hauff won and placed in various tournaments against female competition. She also earned a pin fall win against a male opponent during senior night for AHS.
“I pray that all my hours spent on the wrestling mats in our cafeteria, the weight room, the gym and extra practices will be worth it,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the family I’ve formed through this sport and all the blessings God has given me through it.”
“We hope she can get a good seeding,” Hill said of the sophomore. “She has faced some state champions this year.”
The AHS coach noted female wrestling continues to grow and noted some schools have entire female teams. Cloe Lee was sixth for the Lady Wildcats at 122 but Hill said she will not compete at the state finals.
Hill said he doesn’t want any of his wrestlers to be satisfied with just making it to state.
“We have to keep our foot on the gas pedal,” Hill said. “Last year we sent five wrestlers and won one match. We want our wrestlers to do well when they get to state. They are facing 15 other wrestlers so it is time to rise to the occasion.”