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Veteran Bulldogs off to strong start

With 10 returners from a successful 2011-2012 season, the Rockdale wrestling team is off to another strong start this year.

The Bulldogs face their toughest meet yet Friday and today in the South Metro Dual at Mt. Zion High School, but have already proven they can compete.

"It's just a great early season tournament for our guys to compete in," Rockdale coach Craig Hargrove said. "We have a chance to do really well, and more importantly see where we are and what our strength and weaknesses are, as well as areas where we need improvement."

Rockdale opened the season with 4-1 win over Archer on Nov. 24, before winning at Parkview High School and then defeating visiting Heritage in a big cross-town showdown.

The victory over Heritage was the first in Rockdale's new gym, drawing a packed crowd and strong wrestling from both teams.

The Bulldogs came out on top led by seniors Ulises Ponce and Anthony Banks, along with 2012 state runner-up Alonzo Allen.

Banks, wrestling in the 170-pound class, is a four-year starter who is searching for his first state appearance, who Hargrove said "is very capable of doing so."

Ponce, a 132-pound wrestler, is a three-time state qualifier and a state runner up. At 113 pounds, Allen is a two-time state runner up the past two years.

"The goal is different for each one of them," Hargrove said. "I say those three off the bat are the leaders of the team."

Rockdale is coming off seventh place finish in the traditional tournament last season, and third in the region dual last year.

This season, Rockdale is in a new region after reclassification moved the Bulldogs from 8-AAAA to 2-AAAAAAA, in the state's biggest classification.

Rockdale no longer faces Clarke Central, Loganville, Flowery Branch and others in region competition but takes on tough teams such as Alcovy, Newton and Morrow.

"They all have great athletes and are strong programs," Hargrove said. "It will be a new challenge. Then when you get out of there and into sectional you have the Gwinnett County and Cobb County schools."

Following the South Metro meet, Rockdale will compete in the Quad meet and Wolverine Duals before returning home for the Rockdale Duals on Dec. 29.