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Wrestling: Best of the best
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The wrestling season concludes this weekend as 27 of the area's best wrestlers compete at the 2008 GHSA State Traditional/Individual Wrestling Championships in Duluth.

For the local teams - Eastside, Newton and Alcovy - much will be at stake on the mat.

Eastside control its own density entering the tournament after winning its third consecutive Area-8 traditional wrestling title last week in Winder.

"I am as just as happy as I can be," said Eastside coach Brandon Blakeman. "My goal was to make sure to continue the success and not to have it fall apart on my watch the first year as head coach."

The Eagles (38-5 overall) finished in first place with a team score of 240. Jackson County took second place (182.50). Dacula placed third (165), Rockdale County finished fourth (148) and Alcovy took fifth (144.5) to round out the top five. Heritage finished in sixth place (136).

For the Eagles, they have unfinished business in their quest for a state title. After a bizarre twist of fate occurred last month in Macon due to wintry weather conditions and other circumstances denied them a shot at the state duel title, the Eagles had to settle for Class AAAA State Runner-ups after being defeated by Ringgold in the finals.

Eastside is considered the favorite to win the traditional title, but will have a tough hill to climb at the tournament with the likes of Ringgold, Tucker, Northwest Whitfield and Stockbridge, the defending Class AAAA traditional state champions.

Nonetheless, the success of the Eagles this season has Blakeman expecting his team to dominate by leaving everything on the mat.

"This is it," said Blakeman. "You might as well make it count now."

The Eagles will feature 10 wrestlers at the state tournament, including defending AAAA State Champion Joel Stafford (119 pounds), who captured his second area title last week.

Other area champions representing Eastside are Trevor Bailey (135), Jon Palmer (171), Ardest "A-Train" Carter (189) and Karl Williams (215).

Bailey also earned his second area championship at 135 pounds. Palmer and Carter each captured their first area title, while Williams, who sat out last season with a knee injury, nabbed his second area title.

Cody Durden (103), along with, Jamarkus Giggs (112) and Brandon Cole (130) didn't leave Winder empty-handed after all three wrestlers placed second heading into the state tournament.

This year Eastside wants to leave Class AAAA on a high note before moving to AAA next season. Despite the sweetest of victories or bitterest of defeats the Eagles have endured, Blakeman is extremely proud of his wrestlers, particularly his senior class. It has been with him the longest since his tenure at Eastside for a tremendous season.

"So far, the goals that we wanted to accomplish we have met," said Blakeman. "We are wrestling well and we can't wait to get started."

Meanwhile, the evolution of the Newton wrestling squad is apparent by the tremendous growth and progress the team has made heading into its tournament.

Although Union Grove ran away with the Area-2 title, the Rams tied with Redan for second overall. However, Newton still made the state tournament by one pin.

This year Newton has 11 wrestlers qualifying to compete at state, the most wrestlers coming from the area.

Top wrestlers for the Rams who placed second last week include Corey Ware (119), Aaron Reynolds (130), Daniel Mendoza (135), Joey Joseph (140), Hosea Hines (171) and Mike Fellows (HWT).

Third place finishers for Newton are Ryan Mitchell (112), Carl Collins (125) and Allen Amancio (215).

For the second-year Alcovy Tigers, they continue to show signs of greatness and are eager to make some noise as next season's Class AAAA contender.

The Tigers (29-4), who were defeated by Dacula at the Area-8 Duel Tournament last month which kept them from advancing to Macon, will feature six wrestlers at state after placing fifth at the Area-8 tournament in Winder.

"I got a great group of kids that come into the practice room and work really hard," said Alcovy head coach Mike Mostek. "They do what we ask and they keep improving."

The six who will represent Alcovy include juniors Adam Pollard (130) and Malachi Outlaw (160), who both recently captured their second area title.

Corey Reid (140) placed second, while Travis Knight (135) finished third. T.C. Jackson (189) and Jon Seymore (103) each earned the final two spots at the state tournament.

"I think we well get better with the group that we have," said Mostek, "and come next year, we will have a strong showing."