High School Wrestling
Indians’ storyline taking shape heading into final month of season
by Chris Goltermann
Just like any great story, whether on page, stage or screen, the high school wrestling season can be split into three phases or acts that mark its beginning, middle and end.
And East Coweta head coach Josh Herring feels as if this year's storyline is taking shape right on schedule after finishing as Area 3-AAAAAA runner-up to host Douglas County on Saturday.
The Indians now return to Thursday's Georgia High School Association Class AAAAAA State Duals as much the same underdog as the program was a year ago when the program struggled against North Forsyth and Roswell en route to an early exit in the double- elimination event.
A first-round matchup with Area 5 champion Etowah presents another challenge when action in the three-day, double-elimination event begins at the Macon Centreplex around 8 a.m. on Thursday.
But for a predominantly young Indians lineup, the experiences this week could take the team even further when the season's final act takes shape in early February around time for the Area 3-AAAAAA Traditional Tournament at East Coweta.
'You go through three challenges. County is the first. That's when you find out, 'Do we have a team that can go?,' said Herring. 'The second is area and having qualified for state there are signs that we can [go].'
How well the Indians can develop both individually and as a lineup over the next four weeks will determine if the team can catch Douglas County at the Traditional Area Tournament while advancing as many wrestlers as possible to the Class AAAAAA Sectionals and beyond.
'That's when it all counts, what it's all leading up to,' Herring said. 'We feel we'll be a different team by the time we reach the traditional tournament.' Finishing 4-1 at Saturday's Area Duals with wins over Tri Cities (60-17), Westlake (48-30), Langston Hughes (72-6) and Newnan (41-28) certainly showed that the Indians have made progress while beginning to see its lineup come into order.
Despite falling to a Douglas County team 43-30 which won this year's Northgate Duals tournament in addition to defeating Etowah this season, the Indians dominated at lighter weights while taking a 15-12 lead early.
'We stayed in the fight,' Herring said. 'Was it a motivator for us, absolutely. But by no means are we satisfied. I think by the traditional we could be a much different team.'
Sophomore Dusty Nelson and seniors Matthew Durham and Zack Gabriel have all dominated at lighter weights, with Nelson going 5-0 at the area duals and Durham making weight at 113 for the first time this year after wrestling at 120 and 126 prior to this weekend.
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East Coweta's lightweights have been dominating so far this season while led by sophomore 106-pounder Dusty Nelson. Seniors Matt Durham and Zack Gabriel have also strengthened the top-half of the Indians lineup.
PHOTO BY JEFFREY LEO
East Coweta head coach Josh Herring takes the Indians to this week's GHSA State Duals in Macon.
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Herring has given Nelson a leadership role early in his career with several talented eighth-graders waiting in the wings.
'He's a captain for us and that speaks a lot,' said the Indians coach.
The team will also get a boost this week with the return of Leo Olivas to the lineup and the junior should fit into the vacancy at 126. Senior Blake Green (138), freshman Garrett Klinger (145), James Walker (152) and junior Kevin Lashley have all given the team a spark at points, with Lashley dominating his matches at the area duals.
East Coweta gave up points at 182 and 195 pounds in every match, making up much of the difference in the team's loss to Douglas County on Saturday.
'You look at a guy like Garrett Klinger and he is a worker,' Herring said, noting that it will be a return trip to the GHSA state duals for much of the lineup. 'This is a building block for next year.'
Newnan equally showed improvements last weekend while going 3-2, capped off with a 42-37 victory over Westlake in a bit of revenge following both teams' first meeting of the season at the Northgate Duals where the Cougars lost on a fifth tiebreaker.
Newnan also dominated Langston Hughes (78-0) and Tri-Cities (78-3) and took tough losses to both Douglas County (41-31) and East Coweta (4128) despite wins from Antonio Bandiera and Christian Shellabarger.
The Cougars are off until a home date with LaGrange on Jan. 14, having also met at the Northgate Duals in a match won by LaGrange during the Grangers' runner-up finish to Douglas County.
Nor thgate, meanwhi le, returns to the mat today at home following Saturday's Area 4-AAAAA Duals for a tri-match with Fayette County opponents McIntosh and Sandy Creek.
Competing in an area of 13 schools fighting for just two positions at the state duals, the Vikings used last weekend's competition equally as a building block.
'This is good for something like us, because right now, we don't have a lot of strong individuals, but we are still better off as a team,' said first-year coach John Waters. 'We can come together a lot better at something like this.'
The next month will also show Waters who really wants to wrestle during the final two months of the season.
'It will show us who really wants to be there, and who really wants to give us that extra effort,' he said. 'Hopefully, once we get into February, we will be ready to go to battle.' (Sports writer Doug Gorman contributed to this story)