Wrestling Class A-AAA championship preview

Photo by Rob Saye

In the traditional state wrestling tournament, the more wrestlers, the better for each team. Unlike the duals, in which each team brings its entire squad, only state qualifiers are eligible to represent their programs.

Class AAA …

Buford made history by capturing its first wrestling state title this season with a 44-23 win over region-rival Banks County in the duals state championship. The Wolves’ mission now is to hoist the traditional state title and become the first team since Gilmer in 2011 to complete the season sweep in Class AAA. Buford brought four wrestlers to the state championship last year and walked away with three individual state champions and a top three finish from then-sophomore Darius Bunch at 106 pounds.

The Wolves doubled their state qualifiers this season with eight state participants. Bunch, the three individual state champions (Jack Barber, Brayden Hartley, Chip Ness) and newcomers Trent Ferguson, Rudy Guillen, Eli Hartley and Justin Loredo round out the grapplers that have put Buford wrestling on the top of Class AAA this season.

Buford’s strength is in the lower weight classes, and its early 22-0 lead over Banks County in the duals state title is evident of its prowess. Banks County placed third in the traditional championships last season above Buford’s fourth-place finish and brings seven wrestlers to the state tournament this year, including 2013 individual state champion Chris McCrackin (106). The sophomore was the top qualifier in sectionals this year at 113 pounds and will face a field that includes Grady Pastor of defending Class AAA traditional state champion Woodward Academy. Pastor wrestled McCrackin in the 106-pound class last season and lost by fall in the opening round. Pastor matched up with Buford’s Bunch in the loser’s bracket and lost by fall in route to a fifth place finish. Bunch will be classed up at 120 pounds this year and Pastor could see McCrackin for a second straight year. .

Chandler Pyke is Woodward Academy’s lone defending individual state champion back at state and the senior will wrestle at 152 pounds this year after winning the state title in the 132-pound class as a junior. Pyke also won an individual state title at 126 pounds his sophomore year. The N.C. State-commit has posted at least 70 wins in all four of his varsity seasons and just broke his older brother Chad Pyke’s career pins record at 58 during sectionals last week.

Class AA …

There is no other school in Georgia more dominant in a sport or more decorated in state titles than the Jefferson Dragons have been on the mats. Jefferson has swept state titles the past 12 seasons and took a 45-18 victory over Bremen in this year’s duals finals to set the stage for consecutive sweep No. 13. The Dragons qualified 12 wrestlers for state last season and will bring 11 wrestlers to the championships this year. Chase Piperato won the state title at 106 pounds as a sophomore last season and enters this year in the 126-pound class. Tyler Marinelli grabbed the state championship at 138 pounds and returns to the same weight class this year. Tanner Thurman, Jack Dollar and Zack Rhymer were each top three finishers last season and junior Tradd Porter placed sixth. Thurman reenters at 138 pounds and Dollar remains at 145 pounds. Rhymer made the leap from the 160- to 170-pound class this season and Porter moved up from 170 to 182 pounds.

Bremen will be Jefferson’s top competition and the Blue Devils match Jefferson with 11 grapplers in this year’s tournament. Three wrestlers brought Bremen individual state titles last year, but junior Brock Cooper is the only defending champ returning. Cooper won the state title at 132 pounds last year and will wrestle in the 138 class this year with a 49-4 season record.

Class A …

Gordon Lee captured the 2012-13 traditional title, but the Trojans’ bid for a repeat could be spoiled by Commerce, who won the Class A duals state title earlier this season. Commerce topped Athens Christian, which upset Gordon Lee 48-18 in the finals and will have 13 wrestlers in the state tournament compared to Gordon Lee’s 12 wrestlers. Commerce has been gaining momentum all season and it showed at sectionals, where the Tigers dominated. Ten wrestlers reached the finals and six of the ten wrestlers won the sectionals and earned a top seed in the state tournament.

“It was a great day for Commerce wrestling,” Tigers coach Kendall Love told Access North Georgia after sectionals. “Ten wrestlers in the finals sets things up for a good shot at a team title next weekend.”

Commerce has seemingly burst onto the scene in Class A this year, but there is a lot of experience and depth that complements the confidence the Tigers are showing at the right time. Four individual state top 4 finishers from last season are back in the state tournament, including defending 220-pound state champion Chance McClure. Commerce finished third in state last season with 104 points in the traditional scoring behind Gordon Lee (187) and Holy Innocents’ (171), but had only eight wrestlers (five less than this year). Three seniors won individual state titles for Holy Innocents’ last season and the Golden Bears will rely on a new class of stars, including Liam Quigley, who finished second last season at 145 pounds as a freshman.



Host sites

Class AAA

Where: Buford

When: Sat., Feb. 22


Class AA

Where: Toombs County

When: Sat., Feb. 22


Class A

Where: Commerce

When: Sat., Feb. 22



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