This year, perhaps even more so than others, the bracket for the traditional state wrestling tournament looked especially daunting.

With no state sectionals this time, all wrestlers who finished in the top four at area advanced directly to the big event. The bracket was big and it would take a special wrestler to emerge from it as the overall champion. Step right up Austin Sheppard of Apalachee High School, who by the end of the proceedings Saturday at the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth simply had no more opponents to defeat. Sheppard won the 130-pound state championship by defeating Sprayberry’s Colby Rhinehart 3-2 in the finals.

That win capped a career which any future AHS wrestler will be hard pressed to match. Sheppard recorded 202 victories during his four-year career against only 19 defeats.

“Austin couldn’t have scripted the finals any better,” said Mat Wildcat coach Jim Stoudenmire. “He pressured his opponent hard the whole match. He never let him in his game. The best thing you can do in a match of that magnitude is to apply the pressure to your opponent. You keep pushing until he does something wrong. Austin just kept hammering away.”

The AHS coach has been involved in the sport for many years but says wrestlers like Sheppard only come along every so often.

“To have more than 200 wins in a career puts him in a very rare group,” Stoudenmire said. “He has won multiple state championships and that puts him in a group not many are in. When you consider how good high school wrestling is becoming in Georgia, it’s really something.”

As the coach reflected back on the tournament and Sheppard’s run, he became even more impressed with what had been accomplished.

“He wrestled as well as he could have,” Stoudenmire said. “You are competing once every eight hours and it’s tough to stay on top of your game. Anytime you have that many kids it’s going to be a long thing. Austin turned it on when he had to.”

Looking ahead, Stoudenmire said you don’t replace a wrestler who won two state titles and placed three times at state.

“As a wrestler, Austin has climbed the ladder and become one of the tops of the state, regardless of classification,” the coach said.

•••

Teammate Aaron Segars had to face the No. 1 seed at the state tournament from Cass and while his coach said he wrestled a good match, one lapse proved to be the difference.

“Not having sectionals hurt,” Stoudenmire said. “He didn’t place as high as we would have liked at area and we were going to use sectionals to try and improve his seeding. That way he might not have catch the No. 1 right off the bat at state. That’s why not having sectionals was tough.”

Segars wrestled well throughout the 2009-2010 season, his coach said, and also spent time working with the program’s younger wrestlers.

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