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Prep wrestling: The road to Macon
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Through months of sweat and agony on the mat, two teams - Eastside and Newton - will represent the county today and Saturday during the 2008 GHSA State Wrestling Duel Championship in Macon.

Newton has surprised many people in Region 2-AAAAA this season. This comes despite coach Christopher Andrews working with such a young and mostly inexperienced squad. The Rams managed to silent their critics by winning a key match against Redan at the Area Duels in Stone Mountain last week that earned them the No. 2 seed against Hiram in the first round.

"This team has been wrestling (its) heart out this year," said Andrews. "They have come up against some tough opponents which have made our guys much tougher than before."

The Rams will feature a talented group of veterans, including Daniel Mendoza (135 pounds), Corey Ware (119), Hosea Hines (189), Carl Collins (125), T.J. Jones (125), Joey Joseph (140) and newcomer Aaron Reynolds (130).

But Andrews admits the success of Newton wrestling this season could not have been possible without the expertise, guidance and support from assistant coach Wes Cooper.

"(Cooper) has been very knowledgeable and is very experienced," praised Andrews. "He's awesome and we're glad to have him on the team this year."

Meanwhile, Eastside (26-3 overall, ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA by learned important lessons at the state duels - mental perpetration and stern discipline. Those principles eluded the Eagles from obtaining the title last year after losing in the semifinals.

"They know what they have to do," said Eastside coach Brandon Blakeman of his squad. "After losing in the semifinals last year, they don't want to experience that feeling again."

Blakeman and the Eagles have only one objective in Macon: Finish the most important part of their schedule by being crowned state champions.

The Eagles sent a shockwave throughout Class AAAA with their successful showing at the following events: 36th Annual South Metro Invitational (second place), East Metro Invitational, Tiger Classic at Stockbridge (third place), Kyle Maynard Invitational (top 5 finisher), Brookwood Duels (first place) and earning the Area 8 wrestling title for the third year in a row.

Despite having three losses to Collins Hill (No. 1 in Class AAAAA by, No. 3 in the Southeast by Wrestling USA Magazine), Union Grove (No. 2 in Class AAAAA) and Father Ryan (No. 3 overall according to the Tennessee High School Wrestling Association), Eastside gained valuable knowledge and experience from those defeats.

Eastside will feature four senior team captains - Jamarkus Griggs (112), Brandon Cole (130), David Bender (152) and Ardest Carter (189).

The rest of the team traveling to Macon is last year's state champion Joel Stafford (119), Cody Durden (103), Trevor Bailey (135), Dalton Bragg (140), Jake Malcolm (145), Dalton Temple (160), Jonathan Palmer (171) and Carl Williams (215).

"This (team) has become our family," admitted Blakeman. "They are always together; you would think they were related."

Blakeman is hoping his senior and junior class will pick up the slack and bring the thunder to Macon. The Eastside seniors have been through two other head coaches prior to Blakeman, who had been an assistant at Eastside before taking over for Michael Foot-Smith earlier this year.

"The (seniors) have been along this ride a long time," acknowledged Blakeman. "This is their third time going to Macon and they know that this is the time to do it."

The Eagles (No. 1 seed) will seek redemption as they take on No. 2 seeded Marist (Area 6) in the first round.

"We are where we want to be right now," said Blakeman. "Now it is all about execution. If they want it then they (have) to be hungry."

Although Alcovy is not traveling to Macon, head coach Mike Mostek and his team has nothing to be ashamed of.

The Tigers (23-3) matchup against Dacula (No. 5 in Class AAAA), which determines who will represent Area 8 at the state duels.

Alcovy lost the match by one major point to the Falcons, 37-36, then losing twice to Eastside in the semifinals.

The Tigers have made a lot of noise throughout much of the season, placing as the top team at the Baldwin Brawl, the Kyle Maynard Duels and the Brookwood Duels. They followed that by placing first at the Eagles Landing Tournament and at the North Paulding Tournament.

Alcovy's sturdy group consists of Jon Seymore (103), Jay DeRojas (119), Zach Barton (125), Adam Pollard (130, area champion), Travis Knight (135, area champion), John Pollard (145), Steven Williams (152), Malachi Outlaw (160, area champion), T.C. Jackson (189) and David Jones (HWT).

However, the heart and soul of this unit, team captain Trey Twiford (171), will have to sit out for a while after sustaining a shoulder injury late in the year.

"If you told me that this team would be 23-3 (now), I would have said no way," admitted Mostek. "They have defiantly exceeded all expectations that we have asked of them, and we could not be any prouder of our guys."