Prep Area Wrestling: Young East Coweta lineup holds on for second
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
The sport was wrestling, but the game this season for East Coweta head coach Josh Herring has been poker.
Hosting Saturday’s Area 3-AAAAAA tournament at John Thrower Gym, Herring revealed what he had been holding in his hand all year long to the casual high school wrestling follower – and nearly came away with a full house of Indians heading into this week’s GHSA state sectionals.
The Tigers put together 205 1/2 points to finish well ahead of both the Indians and Cougars.
An Indians lineup that included 11 underclassmen sent eight athletes into the final round in respective weight classes, four of whom came away with area titles.
“This is one of the hardest working groups I’ve ever had,” said Herring, who didn’t have to move from his spot on the finals mat from the time freshman Dusty Nelson captured his championship at 106 pounds until after senior Drew Higgins added another to his successful career by winning at the 138-weight class.
“I’ve tried to keep them all under the radar as much as possible this season,” added Herring. “I kinda put my poker face on.”
In all, at least nine wrestlers from East Coweta and all 14 entries from Newnan will now advance to the Class AAAAAA West Sectionals at Kennesaw Mountain where Area 3 will be joined by 4, 5 and 7 — featuring the states top wrestlers from Cobb, Cherokee and Gwinnett.
“They’re always tough,” said Newnan head coach Tom Everett. “You have 16 of the best wrestlers in each weight class and you have to get it down to just eight. Those sectionals are a bear.”
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Along with East Coweta’s Herring, Indians 130-pound veteran Blake Green held his cards long enough to win a long-anticipated finals matchup against Newnan senior Nathan McGaha, quickly pinning his opponent in the first period.
“He’s been waiting for that match all season,” Herring said of Green. “He dominated.”
The Indians’ other individual title came from newcomer Leo Olivas at 126 pounds. It was a trend felt throughout the East Coweta lineup considering only Higgins, Green and Zach Gabriel, who finished second at 120 pounds, were among Indians that advanced last season among the top-four placers in 2-AAAAA.
Gabriel was no match for senior standout Andrew Sowerbrower, who claimed one of the Cougars’ two individual titles. Along with Sowerbrower, senior Max Davis earned a long-awaited championship at 145 pounds after placing second at last year’s 2-AAAAA tournament.
East Coweta opened the finals with four wins in six consecutive matches starting with Nelson, who joined his older brother Eric, a former Indian standout, as an area champion in the program. Both Matthew Durham (113) and Gabriel (120) were among four second-place finishes for ECHS while joining Jamal Ragland (160) and sophomore Tristan Mann (195).
Kevin Lashley also qualified for the sectionals for the Indians, placing third at the 170 weight class.
Newnan advanced five athletes into the finals with McGaha, Tyler Vermilya (170) and Christian Shellabarger (220) taking second in respective weight classes.
With six schools and several brackets that included less than six entries, it made for a quaint and fast-moving tournament that was wrapped up quickly
“These schools have wrestled so many times. I mean between Josh, myself and some of the others we pretty much knew how a lot of things were going to turn out,” said Everett. “It was about what we expected.
Trevor Roberts (106), Jason Moore (138), Nick Robinson (195) and heavyweight Josh Coffman were victorious in the consolation finals to place third for the Cougars. Xavier McCrary (126), David Cornelius (152), Mike McCoy (160) and David Quesinberry (182) took fourth among state sectional qualifiers among a group that also included teammate Andy Callaway (112).
Herring nearly had two more as well for East Coweta considering he hadn’t expected to lose both 145-pound senior John Guy and heavyweight Dawson Ellis in the few days leading up to Saturday’s tournament. Guy separated a shoulder in practice leaving the Indians without an entry at the weight class.
The same happened at 285 pounds after Ellis was diagnosed with a staph infection that Herring said came from a unsanitized mat while wrestling at a recent event on the road.
“I hate that, especially for [Ellis] considering he didn’t do anything wrong,” Herring said of Ellis, this year’s county champion. “Somebody else didn’t know what they were doing and because of that he pays the price.”
While a majority of this year’s Indians will be experiencing the state tournament for the first time heading into what will be a major challenge in order to advance to the GHSA Championship round in Macon, the East Coweta coach feels the immediate future for the program is brighter than ever.
“I see it more as a positive than anything,” he said. “They’ve definitely put the time in this year.”