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Eastside Eagles hit the mat
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In a sport that measures success not only in wins but also in sweat, wrestling is considered by many to be, pound-for-pound, the toughest test for an athlete.

Eastside wrestling coach Earl Larimer doesn’t take lightly his sports designation as "the toughest," and, as he enters his fourth season leading the Eagles, he sees some early signs of progress in his program in 2013-2014.

"We’ve had guys that spent the summer going to quality camps and putting in the time, technically, to get better," Larimer said. "In the preseason, we really worked on our strength and conditioning to try to be complete wrestlers heading into the season. It’s hard to go a full six minutes on the mat, but we want our wrestlers to be ready to go three full rounds every time they step out to wrestle."

One of the battles for any high school wrestling program is attrition. Larimer said that the Eagles have had good numbers, so far.

"You always have some attrition, but we’ve had up around 40 come out this season," he said. "Those are good numbers for our program, and it’s something we can build on."

Out of those 40 wrestlers who showed up this season, Larimer will bring back four seniors with plenty of experience. The Eagles return seniors Misha Felton, Mitchell Troutman, Jacob Wilder and Justin Bernard.

Felton, Troutman and Wilder return state tournament experience for the Eagles. Felton, a two-time state placer, and Troutman went to the state tournament a season ago for Eastside, while Wilder returns after reaching the state tournament during the 2011-2012 season.

"We have four seniors returning this season, including state placers," Larimer said. "We’re looking to them to lead our team this season. I always ask my seniors to lead by example and be a guy that will help lead the way for us."

The Eagles opened their season last Saturday with a second place finish at the Westside Rumble Duals at Westside High School in Augusta.

Eastside went a perfect 2-0 in pool play with a 76-6 win over Dublin and a 71-12 victory over Evans. The Eagles reached the championship match with a 61-18 win over East Laurens, but fell in the final match of the event 42-36 to Clarke Central.

"We opened up with a good quality tournament and reached the finals," Larimer said. "The tournament came down to the final match. The tournament gave us a chance to show that we could be successful.

"I try to balance our schedule in a way that we have matches where we can be successful, but still have some tough tournaments where we are testing ourselves against the best in the state," he said. "We’re going to see some tough teams this year to get our wrestlers battle-tested and ready for states. They’re going to be ready for anything."

Felton and Troutman both went a perfect 4-0 at the tournament, along
with Rod Boley and Levi Leach.

Larimer said the Eagles still have a tough road in front of them with in-season tournaments and region matches.

"We still have very good tournaments coming up at the Panther Invitational and the Savannah Slam," Larimer said. "We’re going to get to see a lot of in-state and out-of-state teams that are going to test us.

"I always tell guys to respect everyone in our region," he said. "They’re all great teams, but we finished behind Chestatee and Lumpkin County last year, and they’re going to be strong again. We know that the road goes through them. We want to finish in one of the top two spots in the region so that we can go as a team to the state tournament. So, we need to knock off one of them. We have to be ready to go when it comes to region play so we can leap-frog one of those two."

For Larimer, the season will be a success if he can help his wrestlers
reach their peak by season's end.

"First off, I want us to get to team state again," Larimer said. "I want us to get back there. It’s special for the team. I want our individual guys who went to state last year make it again and help push their teammates who didn’t make it last year further so that they have a chance to qualify. We want to get back on the podium.

"Guys have all kinds of individual goals, from placing, to making states, to winning championships," Larimer said. "I want to help them reach their goals."