Collins Hill to be tested at Area 7 duals

For the last eight years, there hasn't been much excitement at the Area 7 dual wrestling tournament, especially for the championship.

Collins Hill was always the heavy favorite, leaving the rest of the region fighting for the No. 2 spot.

The gap between Collins Hill and the rest of the area has narrowed. The Eagles are still the favorite, but North Gwinnett poses as a major threat to dethrone them Saturday at Duluth.

"It's all motivation," Collins Hill coach Josh Stephen said. "We want to compete well when we travel, but in the end we're trying to win region and state championships. That's what really matters. I feel pretty good where we are at."

Collins Hill has won eight straight dual championships. The Eagles' four-year run as dual state champions ended last year with a loss to Camden County last season. The Eagles bounced back by winning their fifth-straight traditional state title.

Collins Hill lost several key wrestlers to graduation and other circumstances, putting some holes in the lineup. That was revealed at the Kyle Maynard Duals two weeks ago when the Eagles were upset by Class AA's Bremen 37-36 in pool play.

"We're not super strong as a dual team," Stephen said. "We're still trying to get better. We still have some inexperience."

North Gwinnett was at the Kyle Maynard Duals as well and lost to Bremen 39-30, but finished ahead of Collins Hill in the tournament even though they didn't wrestle each other.

"We are right there with them and can wrestle with them," North Gwinnett head coach Phil Daniel said. "I have too much respect for them. Those kids have grown up winning."

Daniel has his best team at North in his five years at the Suwanee school. The Bulldogs have qualified for the state duals in 2005 and 2011.

The lineup features 12 starters back from last year led by John Hyre, Hunter Franklin, Ebow Danso, Tyler O'Rear, Avery Elford and Timi Akinnaranye.

"It's a tough lineup," Daniel said. "We're solid from 126 all the way up. We're really young down low."

North won the Lambert Duals last weekend without three of its best wrestlers -- Brett Byerly, Jalen Brooks and Alex Stoehr -- who had football obligations.

"They are tough. North is a good team," Stephen said. "They are very balanced and have a senior group that's going to be real hungry to wrestle us."

Stephen is quick to point out that third seed Mountain View and fourth seed Meadowcreek pose as early round threats.

"There's still good teams in there. If you're not super balanced in a dual and hit a team the wrong way, they'll get close real quick," Stephen said. "That's the big thing I'm preaching, it's not all about North Gwinnett, don't overlook everybody else."

In the Area 8-AAAAAA duals, Archer is the favorite to repeat as champion again. The Tigers, who placed third at last year's state duals, have won seven of the eight tournaments they competed in this season. The Tigers placed third at last week's Granite City Invitational in Illinois.

Brookwood, which qualified for state last year, is the No. 2 seed and Parkview is the No. 3 seed. Brookwood beat Parkview 35-20 at the beginning of December.

Lanier will travel to Monroe for the Area 8-AAAA duals, Buford will wrestle in the Area 3-AAA duals at Oconee County, Wesleyan will be at the Area 3-AA duals at Lovett and Greater Atlanta Christian will head to Jefferson for the Area 4-AA duals. Jefferson is the 11-time defending state champion.