For the past five years, Pope has been the standard-bearer for wrestling in Cobb County. The Greyhounds have claimed five straight county championships, as well as the last five region duals and traditional titles. They’ve even taken home two state traditional championships and one state duals crown during that span.
As far as consistency goes, Pope has no equal locally.
However, if one team were to argue its merits against the Greyhounds, that would likely be Kennesaw Mountain, which has shown a knack for posting strong finishes in big events.
Since leaving Pebblebrook to take over the Mustangs’ program before the 2006-07 season, Roberto Rivera has turned Kennesaw Mountain into a program recognized statewide as one of the best in its classification.
In 2007, the Mustangs placed 25th at the Class AAAAA meet and rose to 14th the following season. Over the last four years, they’ve placed no worse than eighth at the state traditional meet, posting their highest finish — fourth — in 2010.
Kennesaw Mountain has crowned at least one state champion in each of the last four seasons, with two titlists last year.
The Mustangs have shown this same type of consistency at the county tournament, as well as the region duals and traditional championships, finishing no worse than fifth at county and taking home the region duals title in 2010.
Harrison and McEachern have long been the thorn in Kennesaw Mountain’s side for the region traditional crown, but the Mustangs have been a team in the thick of the hunt. This could be the year for them to achieve all of their goals, with nine of 14 starters returning from a season ago.
“Although we return a lot of starters, their experience level is raw. But it’s getting better,” Rivera said. “These guys could have breakout years. I expect our guys to go out and improve after every match.”
Kennesaw Mountain has roughly 35 wrestlers on the varsity squad, led by seniors Rene Gutierrez, Will Clavecilla, Angel Ramirez and Kordel Brown, juniors Augusto Paes and Henrio Thelemaque and sophomore Justan Rivera.
“We have a good combination of freshmen coming in, and how we’ll go is how well our freshmen and sophomores compete in the lineup,” Roberto Rivera said. “If they have strong years, then the sky is the limit for us.
“What we can put together by the time the region and the state duals come around will be a competitive team. The guys will have 20 or so matches under their belts by the championship series, but they’re going to have to put in the work. On paper, we look good and I expect some good things to happen with this group as the season moves on.”
Like most wrestling programs, Kennesaw Mountain typically gets off to a slow start, but it comes together and jells by the end of the season.
One wrestlers with high expectations placed upon him is Justan Rivera. The coach’s son, he won the 170-pound Class AAAAA state championship as a freshman last year, so he’s already being looked upon as a leader this year.
“Justan’s trying to be a vocal leader,” the elder Rivera said. “He knows everybody is looking up to him to be that leader. I’m in his ear all of the time. He’s putting in the time and showing everybody how you work hard.
“He’s already a state champion, so he’s at the top, but he knows that guys are on his heels. The only way for him now is down, so he’s in there making sure that doesn’t happen.”
Kennesaw Mountain’s team goals also reflect its desire to stay on top. In fact, the Mustangs are hoping for even more in the seasons to come.
“Our goal every year is looking to be in the hunt for a top-five finish at state and seeking a state championship,” Rivera said. “We have the pieces in place, but the kids need to live up to it.”