Winners of six consecutive county championships, the Greyhounds are the favorite to repeat as the 43rd annual event begins today at Sprayberry.
But it won’t be easy.
One of the county’s oldest high school championships, the invitational has long been a stepping stone for wrestlers in claiming a state title.
Nineteen of the county’s wrestling programs will be in attendance this weekend, making for crowded brackets and competitive weight classes. Mount Paran Christian is off this weekend, while Walker will be competing in a tournament at Holy Innocents’.
“There is a great system already in place, so I’m sure things will run well,” first-year Sprayberry coach David Church said during Thursday’s seeding meeting. “(Former Sprayberry coach) Gary DeHaven is still around, and he’s been a great resource. A lot of these coaches are still around, so things will work out. I’m looking forward to this weekend.”
Pope, which recently won the Area 7AAAAA and Class AAAAA duals titles, has four No. 1 and four No. 2s among its 14 seeded wrestlers.
Tyler Haskin (132 pounds), Davis Burson (152) and Jake Henson (160) are returning champions from a year ago, while Henson is vying for his fourth county title. T.J. Collins (145) also earned a No. 1 seed for Pope.
“This looks to be the most competitive county tournament we’ve had in a couple of years,” Jim Haskin said. “As far as experience goes, I’m hoping the last couple of weeks have helped us prepare for this weekend.
“I put the guys through some tough practices so they don’t feel too complacent, and I’ve pushed them mentally and physically to get ready for this. There’s a lot of pride in winning this tournament, and that’s what are expectation is — to go out and win.”
Other returning county champions include Wheeler’s Aslan Kilic (113), Hillgrove’s Carlin Powell (132) and Kennesaw Mountain’s Justan Rivera (182).
Kilic, who won at 106 last year, is one of two No. 1 seeds for Wheeler, joining E.J. Walker (106). Powell captured the 113-pound title last year, but is a No. 3 seed at 132 this season. Rivera, the Mustangs’ lone No. 1 seed, is aiming for his third straight championship after winning titles at 170 and 182.
Walton, Marietta and Kell each have a single No. 1 seed in Jacob Murphy (138), Jonathan Gates (170) and Matthew Springfield (120), respectively.
McEachern has two No. 1 seeds among its five seeded wrestlers in Christian Wade (220) and Uche Nkadi (285).
Allatoona, which finished third at the Class AAAAA duals and was the Area 5AAAAA runner-up, has the second-highest number of seeded wrestlers behind Pope with 10, including No. 1s Jarrett Williams (126) and Cody Webb (195).
The Buccaneers are a team that could challenge Pope for the team title.
“We’re pretty happy were we are going into this,” Allatoona coach Joe Lanier said. “We’re tough in a lot of areas and getting a spot on the podium in each weight class will be a challenge for everybody.
“Our team should be more competitive than it’s ever been at this tournament.”
Kennesaw Mountain, the Area 4AAAAAA dual champion, has nine seeded wrestlers, followed by Walton’s seven. Wheeler, Marietta and Lassiter are tied with six, while Harrison, McEachern, Sprayberry and Kell each have five.
Campbell and Hillgrove both have two seeded wrestlers. North Cobb Christian’s Mark Watson (126) is the Eagles’ first seeded wrestler at a county invitational. Pebblebrook’s Taqee Muhammad is seeded at 113.
The 113-pound class could see some the stiffest competition, with Kilic and Pope’s Josh Tazzetta, as will 285, which includes Nkadi, Campbell’s DeKevion Byrd, Marietta’s Jeron Holsey and Walton’s George Humphreys.
The most anticipated potential final, at 138, would pit a pair of state champions in Murphy and Pope’s Jake Adcock, the No. 2 seed, who won a state title at Cass last year.
Competition will begin at 5 p.m. today with two preliminary championship rounds. Wrestlebacks start at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, with the championship semifinals slated for 11 a.m. and the championship finals set for 4 p.m.