Staff Photo: John Bohn Parkview's Kamaal Shakur, top, pins Archer's Trey Rinehart in the 126 pound weight class of Area 8-AAAAA wrestling championships held at Parkview High School Saturday.
For the last three years there hasn't been much anticipation going into the state wrestling tournament.
Collins Hill has been the overwhelming favorite, so it wasn't a question if the Eagles would win, but rather by how much.
It's a different case this weekend. Collins Hill is the four-time defending state champions, but Camden County has closed the gap on the Eagles.
Camden defeated Collins Hill in the Class AAAAA dual state finals last month and the two are expected to battle for the traditional trophy.
"It's definitely a different dynamic. The last couple of years we've been the overwhelming favorite going in," Collins Hill coach Josh Stephen said.
The Eagles only qualified nine wrestlers for the state tournament, which begins today at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Camden qualified 13, but all nine of Collins Hill's wrestlers have the potential to score a lot of points. The Eagles return former champs Sean Russell and Drew Ferguson-Mitchell and state runners-up Ryan Millhof, Spencer Rickman and Steven Bradtmueller."For us to win it, it's going to be depend on us getting in the state finals," Stephen said. "If they accomplish all of their individual goals, that's what's really going to make it. Rather than just a bunch of people placing, we have to put them in the finals."
Camden finished ahead of Collins Hill in a traditional tournament early in the season, but the Eagles were without two of their top wrestlers. The Wildcats defeated Collins Hill in the dual state finals on a tiebreaker. The Eagles will get one last shot to prove they are still the state's best team this weekend.
"I really like where we're at," Stephen said.
While Collins Hill and Camden will be battling for first, Archer will not be far behind. The third-year program has emerged as a state power this season.
"I think we exceeded most people's expectations for a third-year school," Archer coach Tom Beuglas said. "Our kids have continued to improve all season."
The Tigers qualified 12 wrestlers, but will only send 11 to the Arena. Freshman Elliot Lee was injured at last week's East Sectional and will miss the tournament.
"Losing his points at the tournament will hurt our chances of a high finish," Beuglas said.
Archer has six potential state placers, led by title contender Ernest Alexander at 195 pounds.
"It will be interesting to see how Archer plays in it," Stephen said.
Peachtree Ridge has had a state champion each of the last four years and could make it five with title contenders Mac Shiver and Tre Hortron. Brookwood, North Gwinnett and Shiloh will try to have state champions for the first time in more than a decade.Shiloh's Ryan Mosley is one of a few undefeated wrestlers in the state at 55-0. The senior is trying to become the Generals' first state champ since Justin Mussarra in 2000.
Brookwood's Blake Cunningham is 46-0 and seeks to become the Broncos' first state champ since Justin Hornsby in 1995. North's Dalton Daniel is 40-7 and will will try to become the Bulldogs' first state champ since Rodney Potter in 1993.
Sophomore standouts Russell and Buford's Chip Ness seek to defend their state titles from a year ago, while Ferguson-Mitchell goes for his second in three years.
Greater Atlanta Christian has had seven state runners-ups in its history, but Zach Feuerbach is hoping to end that skid this weekend. The senior is 59-7 this season at 160 pounds.
"If he makes it to the finals, I feel pretty good about his chances," GAC coach Jeff Harsh said. "He's come a long way and has had a great career at GAC."
The Spartans have 11 state qualifiers, led by Feuerbach and Parker Fair. GAC is in the same classification as state power Jefferson, so dethroning the Dragons is unlikely.
"I really believe there is parity this year in AA wrestling," Harsh said. "After Jefferson, there are six or team teams that have a realistic shot at second place. I know we're in the hunt for a trophy this year, as long as our guys compete the way we know they are capable of competing."