Steve West wasn't sure what kind of team he was going to have this season. All he knew for sure was that it was a young one.
He hoped his Grayson wrestling squad would be good, but didn't know if they would be good enough to earn a trip to the state dual meet.
The Rams put West's doubts to rest on Saturday, beating Brookwood to earn the No. 2 spot in Region 8-AAAAA and a trip to Macon.
"We just keep trying to get better every week," West said. "We've had our share of tough teams to wrestle this year and I think that's what has helped us get better."
Grayson will wrestle Pope on Friday in the first round of the Class AAAAA state dual meet.
"They are tough. We saw them this summer, they've got a real strong team," West said. "We're going to prepare well for them."
With only five seniors on the team, West has had to rely on several young wrestlers. But it has been seniors Ben Hulsey and Jon Isburgh who have stepped up as the Rams' top wrestlers this season.
Hulsey is a four-year starter and a two-time state qualifier. Isburgh qualified for state last year while at South Gwinnett and won the Gwinnett County tournament this season.
"They wrestle hard and work hard and are the type of people you want to lead your team," West said.
Grayson took first in Pool B at the Lion Duals, was second at the Big Red Rumble, eighth at the Kyle Maynard Duals and ninth at the Gwinnett County tournament.
But last Saturday's performance was by far the Rams' best of the season.
"All the new kids that don't have much experience wrestled their best in that match against Brookwood," Isburgh said.
Grayson wrestled in dual tournaments where it went up against top-10 teams on a weekly basis. The Rams began the season with a 63-10 loss to Centennial, which is ranked No. 5 in the state. But as the season went on Grayson got better.
"It took us awhile to gel and figure things out," Hulsey said. "Once we did we started winning."
A 36-34 loss to Tucker, the No. 2 team in Class AAAA, at the Kyle Maynard Duals showed the Rams could hang with the best.
"At the Kyle Maynard Duals it showed us some serious competition and everything seemed easy after that," Hulsey said. "For such a young team (the Tucker match) was a confidence builder."
Two weeks later they proved it by knocking off a very good Brookwood team 38-36 to advance to the state duals for the second time in three years. Grayson placed in the top six at state in 2006.
Grayson defeated Shiloh in the consolation semifinals of the area duals and then challenged Brookwood for the No. 2 spot.
"I thought we could qualify for state, but I didn't know for sure," West said. "We're 16-13 in duals so sometimes we show up for meets and sometimes we don't."
Mike Yurk, Joseph Champaign, Michael Dixon and Brad Hobby recorded pins to put Grayson out to a commanding lead over Brookwood. Nick Isburgh won by technical fall and Jon Isburgh by decision. With Grayson up 32-18 it was Roman Mangini, a first-year starter with 20-plus wins, who secured the victory with a pin.
"I got Roman's attention after the first period," Jon Isburgh said. "I told him if you win by pin then we go to state. He did and he was the hero that day for us."
Now Grayson has the daunting task of taking on Pope, the No. 4 team in the state, in the first round of the state duals.
"I want to show them we're no joke and that we didn't get there by fluke," Hulsey said.
What: State duals
Where: Macon Centreplex
First-round matchups for local teams
· Collins Hill vs. Murray County
· Parkview vs. Centennial
· Grayson vs. Pope
· Dacula vs. Tucker
· Wesleyan vs. Pike County