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AREA 7-AAAAA DUALS: Central wrestling feels ready
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First-year Central coach Jeremiah Walker, right, and the Bulldogs hope wrestling in the Knockout Christmas Classic in Florida over the holiday break was a good tune-up for the Area 7-AAAAA duals tomorrow. - photo by Brian Paglia

It has been a week since Forsyth Central wrestling finished seventh at the Knockout Christmas Classic in Osceola, Fla., a reputable tournament known for an overload of formidable teams. South Dade, Palm Harbor and Osceola high schools – the top three teams in Florida – were there. So was Camden County, the 2012 Class AAAAA state duals champion in Georgia. There are few better tournaments to use as a barometer of team progress than the Knockout.

So the Bulldogs go into the Area 7-AAAAA duals tournament Saturday at Pope buoyed by their performance a week ago in Florida but, even more, fortified by their experience.

"After visiting a tournament like that and coming back home, what’s there to be afraid of?" Central coach Jeremiah Walker said.

Central will see more tomorrow.

There’s little mystery as to this weekend’s favorite. Once more, Pope is the team to beat until it moves up to Class AAAAAA next season in the newest two-year reclassification cycle by the Georgia High School Association.

The Greyhounds have won two straight duals state championships and six consecutive area duals titles. Already this season, Pope has gone 5-0 against area opponents, won the Winder Barrow Duals and placed second at the Lassiter Invitational behind reigning Class AAAAAA champion Archer.

"Pope is certainly the favorite going in," Walker said.

That leaves Central in a group with Cambridge and Creekview vying for the final spot to qualify for the State Duals on Jan. 9-11 in Macon. The Bulldogs are the No. 4 seed entering the area duals behind Cambridge and Creekview, who Central has gone 0-3 against this season. But the circumstances of those matches give the Bulldogs hope for a different outcome this weekend.

When Central lost 42-39 to Cambridge on Nov. 16, neither team had their ideal line-ups. By the time the Bulldogs faced Cambridge again on Dec. 11 (a 55-21 loss) and Creekview on Dec. 19 (a 63-18 loss) Central still had not found its best line-up.

Wrestlers were cutting weight. Walker was tweaking roles. Specifically, a group of Knight Bankston, Dustin Morris, Kaleb Sherman, Jon Starr and Caleb Troutt had all entered the season hovering in weight between 140 and 160 pounds. It created a five-way race for two varsity spots.

"Early in the season that’s exactly what you want," Walker said. "They made each other better."

Now, Walker feels the Bulldogs are exactly where they need to be. The group has settled at their respective wrestling weights, giving Walker the flexibility to shuffle spots based on match-ups.

"It’s taken some moving and shifting throughout the season, managing the guys in where they needed to be and where their focus needed to be," Walker said. "This week our ideal line-up is where it should be."

All of which leaves Central hoping it can be one of the top two teams at the end. But Walker said the Bulldogs won’t overlook even their first opponent. With a first-round bye, Central will await the North Springs-Northview winner. The Bulldogs defeated Northview, 47-33, on Nov. 20, their first victory against the Titans in six seasons.

Whoever they face, Central will do it with a new mentality, one forged over three days in Florida against incredible competition.

"We’ve seen the toughest competition in the Southeast," Walker said. "We can’t be timid anymore. We’ve got to be confident."