In 2002, the Georgia High School Association held the first dual wrestling championships.
According to the team’s coaches, Southeast Whitfield will be in the state tournament for the first time since they started.
The Raiders opened Saturday’s second day of the Area 7-4A duals with a loss to eventual area champions Gilmer, but the Raiders then won their next three matches, edging both Cass and then LaFayette with the state trip on the line.
“We had talked to the guys about it before the action today that coming through the wrestlebacks, it would be a long day,” Southeast coach Michael Herndon said. “We knew we would have to wrestle one right after another, but I think their confidence just grew and grew as the day went on.”
It also helped to have some skilled wrestlers — especially Austin Allen, someone Herndon and the rest of the team depends on.
Allen, a 170-pound junior, was the final wrestler on the lineup when the Raiders took to the mat to take on Cass. Southeast had already lost 54-14 to Gilmer before topping Northwest 42-32 in the wrestlebacks. The Colonels were up next in the bracket, and the Raiders had already faced Cass on Friday night, winning 49-29. This time, things would be closer.
“I was very nervous going into that Cass match,” Herndon said. “It is so difficult to beat a team twice in a row, and we knew they were coming at us with everything that they had.”
Down 30-21 to the Colonels with two matches left, Tanner Acosta got a pin at 160 to bring Southeast within three points. With the victory win, the Raiders still had a chance, and they all knew it, too.
“They all crowded around me and told me to go out there and get it done,” Allen said. “I almost cried when (Acosta) won his match. I thought we were done until he won. It just all went to my head, and I was so scared. But I had beaten that guy a couple of times already.”
Herndon said Allen is one of a few wrestlers on the squad he would feel comfortable with the match coming down to his draw.
“He had a great tournament,” Herndon said of Allen.
“He is one of the kids when we need a pin or need a win, he is one that we can count on. There are a handful of guys that are like that on this team, and it was exciting to get that win.”
Allen scored the pin to give the Raiders a 33-30 victory, and LaFayette, who had wrestled Gilmer for the title and fell into the wrestlebacks, was the last obstacle.
“We beat Cass and we were coming off of a win with a lot of momentum,” Herndon said. “LaFayette was coming off of a loss, and I think our guys used that to their advantage.”
The Raiders held steady in a back-and-forth match and led 33-28 going into the last match, and Andrew Miranda scored a 6-2 win to seal the contest and the spot in the state duals for what Herndon believed was the first time in school history.
“We feel great to finally go to state,” Allen said. “People will respect us now. They know that we aren’t just those guys that show up. It is a great feeling to get that respect.”
It was a performance that drew praise from a lot of the opposition as well.
“Those boys just kept battling and battling and battling,” Northwest coach Allen Tucker said. “After we lost to them, it was a lot of fun seeing them just keep fighting and fighting.”
Individually, Allen was 5-0 in the tournament with four pins. Lester Paucay at 152 and Carlos Fraire at 220 were both 4-0 with Fraire picking up three pins. Jesus Dominguez (120) was 4-1 with three pins, while Aaron Thomas (126) and Jose Marir (285) were both 3-2 with a pair of pins. It was Marir’s first tournament of the year after wrestling behind Fraire for most of the year before Fraire cut weight to 220.
State duals are Jan. 10-12 in Macon.
Northwest advanced with a 52-24 win over the rival Catamounts. Alex Reynolds (145), Dalton Ayers (152) and Jordan Pittman (182) each went 2-0 on Saturday for the Bruins.
Dalton got wins in its match with Northwest from Dylan Carlile (126), Brian Nunez (132) and Sidney Wheeler (170). Northwest also forfeited a weight class.