Held in the Peach State for the first time of its 18-year history, the event saw Georgia’s all-star team of seniors battle valiantly, only to ultimately fall to their nationally ranked counterparts by a 37-15 score.
Wrestling USA magazine had every member of the national team ranked among the top 10 seniors nationally, including three No. 1s and three No. 2s. Meanwhile, Team Georgia had four top 10 wrestlers in No. 2 Sean Russell (120 pounds), No. 3 Ryan Millhof (126), No. 1 Chip Ness (182) and No. 2 Chance McClure (195).
“This was the biggest wrestling event in Georgia history,” said Dustin Kawa, who coached Team Georgia. “They have five or six No. 1- and No. 2-ranked wrestlers, and maybe 12 top-five guys, so this was an awesome experience for our team.
“I think we did a good job. Some of the guys who lost probably haven’t had the kind of experience those other guys have had at this level, but I think everybody got a lot out of it, and we showed we can compete.”
Team Georgia got off to a strong start when Apalachee’s Matt Moore pinned Sage Hecox with a second left in the first period at 220 pounds, putting Georgia in front 6-0.
Team USA’s Billy Miller responded with a pin at heavyweight. However, Alonzo Allen (Rockdale County) provided the biggest upset of the day following his 9-4 victory at 113 pounds over No. 1-ranked Brian Rossi, giving Georgia a 9-6 advantage.
That was the final lead Team Georgia would hold in the match.
Team USA’s highly ranked squad scored three major decisions and two minor decisions through the next five bouts at 145, 132, 152, 160 and 138 and took a 24-9 lead with five bouts remaining.
Pope’s Jake Henson did what he could at 160, against his soon-to-be Virginia teammate, second-ranked Garrett Peppelman, but the former three-time state champion didn’t have the energy after coming off knee surgery in early March. Henson lost 15-6.
“I really think it was my conditioning,” he said. “I’ve only been wrestling again for two weeks, so my conditioning wasn’t up to the level it needed to be. The other guy is a stud, and he’ll be my teammate at Virginia, but I think it would have been a different match if I was in shape.
“This was a great experience. It was awesome to be a part of it, and it’s huge for Georgia. It’s one of the biggest things to happen here for wrestling.”
Millhof (Collins Hill) snapped Team USA’s streak with a 5-3 decision over No. 3 Zeke Moisey at 126.
McClure (Commerce) held a 3-2 lead over No. 2 Nathan Rose at 195, but he lost 4-3 when Rose was credited with a takedown as time expired. The ruling was upheld following a discussion by the officials, and Rose had already walked off the mat before shaking hands with McClure.
Chandler Rogers extended the lead to 33-12 for Team USA with a pin at 170 pounds.
Russell (Collins Hill) scored a takedown with 4 seconds left for a 5-2 victory at 120.
The final match, at 182 pounds, pitted 170-pound No. 1 Bo Nickal against 195-pound No. 1 Ness. Nickal went on to get the best of Ness, 12-3.
Team USA coach Scott Legacy wasn’t surprised at how well Team Georgia competed.
“What Georgia brought didn’t surprise me,” Legacy said. “I told my kids during the pre-meeting that (the Georgia wrestlers) are the real deal and they’ll bring it. I’ve seen some of the Georgia guys in action at other tournaments. Georgia wrestling is definitely on the rise and it’s not going away anytime soon.”