While Gordon Lee and Gilmer County look to add to their state title hardware, the GHSA Traditional State Wrestling Tournament is more about the individual competitors looking to be crowned the best of the best.
Southeast Whitfield's Carlos Fraire is just one of many north Georgia area wrestlers with legitimate title hopes, though if the senior is to collect the championship medal Saturday at the Macon Centreplex he'll have to defeat one of the tougher fields in the six-classification tournament.
Fraire, a surprise state runner-up last year in Class AAA, enters today's Class AAAA 220-pound competition 48-1 and coming off titles at the area and sectional tournaments. He's fashioned his strong season in two weight classes, having started the season at heavyweight before getting down to 220 right before the area tournament. The experience has, in his coach's view, expanded his star's repertoire.
"Wrestling at heavyweight really helped Carlos rely on his quickness," Southeast's Michael Herndon said. "He's always been good on his feet and this year he's developed more moves while in a neutral position. He'll need the moves because he's got a tough road, but that's why he's worked so hard this year."
Fraire will likely have to defeat one of the title favorites, Locust Grove's Tyler Rapes, in the semifinals after Rapes had to default his sectional final. He then would likely have to defeat either co-No. 1 seed Telly Sloan of Griffin or two guys he's had tough wins against this year in area rivals Tyler Bertollini of Gilmer County or LaFayette's Taylor Barron.
That tough road is one repeated throughout the Class AAAA brackets. Southeast teammate Jesus Dominguez won the area title over Dalton's Dylan Carlile, then lost to Carlile at the sectionals. So, to win the title he'll have to defeat both No. 1 seeds, Carlile and Jonesboro's Calvin Coleman.
The same scenario exists at 113, where area rivals Isaiah Knight of Heritage and LaFayette's Caleb Mariakis split area and sectional titles, with Knight earning the state top seed. Mariakis, to get another shot at Knight, would likely have to defeat 2012 third-place finisher Daniel Bautista of Gilmer County in the quarterfinals and co-No. 1 seed Greg Hilliard of Lumpkin in the semis.
"I told Caleb the other day," recalled dad and coach Keith Mariakis, "that in order to win the state title he'll have to defeat three kids that all could win it. It's like that everywhere, though. I think this area will do well again -- as long as we don't beat each other up."
The toughest might be at 126, where three 2012 state champions will compete -- Gilmer's Cameron Perry, Carrollton's Jake Adcock and Alexander's Roman Boylen. In other words, nothing will come easily and ultimately it might come down to another factor.
"There's always an element of luck involved in winning a championship," Heritage coach Mike Craft said. "All the weights are tough, so a slip here or a slip there can change an entire bracket."
While the Class AAAA competition begins today, Classes AAA, AA and A will start Friday. The semifinals in each class will be wrestled Friday night, with the championship finals slated for 6 p.m. Saturday.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...