Returning state-placers include the Pope group of Jake Henson, Billy Meek, Joey Tabachino and Trevor Stevens. Also back are Walton’s Jacob Murphy, Campbell’s Jamez Taylor, Harrison’s Anthony Fiacco, Kell’s Matthew Springfield, Sprayberry’s Thomas Cook, Kennesaw Mountain’s Justan Rivera, Marietta’s Lawton Ward, McEachern’s Christian Wade and Walker’s William Schubert. Lassiter’s Paul Pelletier was a state-placer in 2011.
Henson, a junior, and Rivera, a sophomore, are returning state champions, having won titles at 152 pounds in Class AAAA and 170 in AAAAA, respectively, last season. Pope’s Brooks Climmons, who won at 160 as a sophomore in 2011, also returns as he seeks to become a two-time state champion.
Henson (152), Meek (160), Climmons (182) and Stevens (195) all won sectional titles last week, as did Pope’s Tyler Haskin (126) and Allatoona teammates Jack Woods (120) and Cody Webb (182), putting them among the favorites to capture state titles in Class AAAAA.
Fiacco (152), Ward (170), Murphy (132) and Rivera (182) won in their Class AAAAAA sectional.
Pope is aiming for its third consecutive traditional team championship. The Greyhounds qualified 13 wrestlers for the state finals, giving them the upper hand in nabbing another title.
Pope, for the second year in a row, could end the season with a sweep of the dual and traditional titles at both the region and state levels.
“This is a very experienced group now,” Pope coach Jim Haskin said. “These kids aren’t young anymore. They’ve been in some of the biggest events in the country and have been pretty good at rising to the occasion.
“I feel like I have a couple of guys that have a really good chance at winning state championships. Overall, I think everyone has a chance to place. They just need to keep winning matches one at a time. It’s a good group of kids that I think will do really well.”
Joining Pope in the Class AAAAA field are Allatoona’s six wrestlers. The Buccaneers have crowned a state champion in each of the past two seasons.
“We got two sectional champs in Jack Woods and Cody Webb,” Allatoona coach Joe Lanier said. “Webb is in the same class as Climmons, who is ranked No. 1 in the nation at 182. Woods is just a freshman, so you never know what you’re going to get from a freshman at state. I feel good about a lot of our matchups and think all of our guys could place.”
Kell has four wrestlers in Class AAAAA, while Sprayberry has two.
Kennesaw Mountain is also looking to add to its state title haul through the Class AAAAAA tournament. The Mustangs, who have four qualifiers, have crowned at least one individual state champion in each of the past four seasons.
Joining the Mustangs in the Class AAAAAA field are Marietta (six qualifiers), Wheeler (six), Hillgrove (five), Harrison (four), McEachern (four), Campbell (three), Lassiter (three), Walton (three), South Cobb (two) and North Cobb (one).
Schubert, who finished sixth in the state last year as a freshman at 120 pounds, will compete for Walker at 132 pounds this season. He joins teammates Jason Schubert (138), Jordan Schoettler (145) and Jason Lil (195) as Class A qualifiers.
Mount Paran Christian’s second-year varsity program made history, qualifying three wrestlers — Cole Spain (160), Matt McKenzie (170) and Scotty Valiani (285) — to the state meet.
“The guys have worked really hard all season, especially Scotty, who is a first-year wrestler,” Mount Paran coach Connie Arnold said. “To make it to the final eight is really special for these guys and the program.
“I thought we had a good chance to do well this season with 10 seniors on the roster. I’m glad they came out. The bar is set really high for them. Hopefully, we can make some noise down there.”
The state championships will open with first-round action in Classes AAAAA and AAAAAA today at 5:30 p.m. Competition continues Friday with the quarterfinals at 9 a.m.
The Class A quarterfinals begin Friday at 1 p.m.
Semifinal rounds for all classifications are slated for Friday at 7 p.m., while the championship finals begin Saturday at 3 p.m.