Since the inception of the state duals in 2001-02, neither squad has placed in the top two of their respective region tournaments to qualify. That all changed Saturday when they each finished as their respective region’s runner-up.
The two newcomers will be joined by the veteran programs Pope, Kennesaw Mountain and Marietta as first-round competition begins inside the Macon Centreplex.
The double-elimination tournament will continue through Friday and into Saturday’s finals.
“After the team that graduated last year, I didn’t know what I had coming into this season,” said Wheeler coach Matt Brickley, who will lead his team into a first-round match against Region 2AAAAAA champion Alcovy. “We have a lot of first- and second-year (wrestlers), and only six of my 14 guys were in the lineup last year.
“It’s been an exciting past couple of days. It’s like the work ethic from the guys has doubled and they’re giving 110 percent. Everybody’s on weight and everybody’s positive.”
Brickley has several wrestlers in his lineup who he’s counting on to provide a spark in the Wildcats’ state duals debut, including brothers Aslan (106 pounds) and Sergei (113) Kilic, as well as Bryce Murray (120), Wysmark Chaves (132), Kevin Pluckter (145) and Adanis Basilio (160).
“We need a good blend from all of our weight classes,” Brickley said. “We’re fortunate that our young guys have been wrestling a long time and came up through our junior program, so it’s not like this is their first year of competition.
“I’ve seen our progression building over the past couple of weeks, and the way our guys are hitting their weight classes now, it’s all starting to come together.”
A victory would likely send Wheeler into a quarterfinal-round matchup against No. 2 seed Collins Hill, which faces Marietta in the first round.
“I think Alcovy is a good draw for us,” Brickley said. “As a No. 2 seed coming out of our region, we could have drawn worse. I feel like it’s a fortunate situation and we can win some matches. I’m definitely not looking into going 0-2 at this thing and just be there for the experience. We want to stay a long time.”
Allatoona is also hoping for a deep run in the tournament. The Buccaneers (17-7) open with Region 3AAAAA champion Ware County, with the winner facing either Flowery Branch or Northside-Warner Robins in the quarterfinals.
“I don’t know much about (Ware County) since we don’t wrestle too many teams from south Georgia,” Allatoona coach Joe Lanier said. “I know they won their (region), so they’re obviously talented. We just have to take care of ourselves and work hard.
“I feel like, every year, we’ve gotten better individually and as a team. We’re young with three to four senior starters, but our young core is a bunch of really solid kids. I feel like we have a good chance.”
Lanier will also rely on several wrestlers to keep his team competitive, including Ethan Benedict (113), Jack Woods (120), Logan Southard (126), Brad Scott (132), A.J. Cagle (138), Will Kemp (152) and Cody Webb (182).
“We depend on these guys to do what they’re supposed to do,” said Lanier, who doesn’t have a starter at 145 pounds, but said he would find someone to fill that weight class.
Allatoona’s fortunes changed when members of its football team joined the wrestling squad. The Buccaneers have only lost three dual meets since they’ve joined practice, and their additions have added some much-needed depth.
“We added five starters when the football players joined, and we were able to move another guy around, so it was like a six-wrestler impact,” Lanier said. “We have a good core of eight guys that have been solid, and I think the kids feel real good going in. They’ve wrestled well and practiced hard all week. I think we’re strong in a lot of weight classes and I feel good about what we have.”