If last wrestling season is any indication, there is uncertainty expected among the programs of Region 3AAAAAAA on who is going to win what.
McEachern won the region dual championship last year, with Marietta emerging as the top team in the traditional tournament.
Then there were teams like Hillgrove, which was the most top-heavy with one state champion and six region champs. The Hawks also placed sixth in the Class AAAAAAAA traditional state tournament.
Neither of the three teams took a substantial graduation hit, while North Paulding is also expected to return the bulk of its starters after finishing runner-up in region both tournaments. North Cobb and Kennesaw Mountain, both expected to be improved, are looking to climb out of the bottom third.
Just like last season, the team that steps up on tournament weekends is the team that wins.
“Our region is pretty competitive,” Marietta coach Tommy Carthers said. “I think, right now, I have to say that North Paulding and McEachern are the top two right now, but we’ll see what happens when the dust settles.”
Marietta and McEachern do not have a gauge on how strong they will be until they have their entire team on the mats. Both are thin at the upper weights, with the wrestlers on their respective football teams still playing in the postseason.
McEachern, which last won the state dual and traditional tournaments in 2007, appears to be in good shape in the lower and middle weights, with seniors Kris Wilson (106 pounds), Quinn Higginbotham (126) and Kristian Chemwor (132) and sophomores Shamaad Price (113) and Shamani Price (120). Wilson and Shamani Price are returning state-qualifiers.
“Should be pretty solid throughout our lineup,” McEachern coach Cory Newsome said. “Our football team is pretty good this year and will probably make it pretty far into the playoffs, so we are going to struggle a little in our upper weights until we get them back out.”
Meanwhile, Marietta is still waiting on seniors Danny Lopez (195) and Cohl Husbands (220) and sophomore Jon Peralta (145) to join the team after football season. Right now, the Blue Devils are relying on senior Nakoti Coleman (126) and sophomores Alex Hurley (138) and Ely Early (126), among others.
Hillgrove’s stronger wrestlers are spread out. Defending state champion and sophomore Connor Powell is wrestling at 120, while senior Ricky Roberto, who was second in state, will alternate between 145 and 152. Seniors and returning sectional qualifiers Antoine Joseph (220) and Kyle Kalminski (285) are also expected to contribute.
The weight classes in between could be inherited by first-year varsity wrestlers.
“Our concern is how quickly they adapt to varsity competition,” Hillgrove coach Shawn Slenczka said. “Our goal is to challenge for a region title and make a return trip to the state duals. It will not be an easy task in what should be an ultra-competitive region.”
Kennesaw Mountain and North Cobb both struggled with depth last season, but this year could be a different story with both teams having far less difficulty filling voids in the lineup.
On the east side of Cobb County, Pope has the talent to win its first traditional state title since winning three in a row from 2011-13, and its first state dual title since 2012.
The Greyhounds came close to winning the traditional title last season, finishing second to Valdosta in Class AAAAAA tournament.
All of the wrestlers who led Pope to its runner-up status are returning. Senior Max Druhot (132) returns after placing second in the state after winning in 2018. Junior Alex Hearn (138) is back after finishing second in the state, while senior Troy Gable (160) is back after placing third.
“We were so close last year, but what it will take is having the right kids in the right weight class,” Pope coach Jim Haskin said. “We’ve been able to get them where they belong (this season) and, so far, so good.”
Haskin also noted that his senior class will be essential in helping Pope win a pair of state titles. That includes Druhot, Gable, Andrew Barner (220) and Patrick Haskin (152), as well as Connor Weeks (170), who is healthy after suffering a knee injury last year.