Since returning to action after the State Team Duals, Forsyth Central wrestling coach Jeremiah Walker has seen steady signs of progress in his team.
There was the sweep of Gainesville (36-30) and North Springs (76-0) on Jan. 14. When Central hosted the Bulldog Brawl on Jan. 17-18, it finished fifth and had the most individual placers out of all schools. Central followed that up with wins against Towers (60-24) and West Hall (36-33), the first since 2004.
Then the Bulldogs had a strong showing at the Burnt Mountain Classic at Pickens County, where Nathan Kistler (2nd, 113), Hunter Kurowski (sixth, 106), Dustin Morris (fifth, 138), Carson Pillow (fifth, 170) and Caleb Troutt (fifth, 145) helped Central finish fifth in a strong field of teams.
All of which has Walker and the Bulldogs’ optimism at peak levels heading into the Area 7-AAAAA traditional tournament today and tomorrow at Kell High School.
"I sincerely believe we’re peaking at the right time," Walker said. "The team is significantly focused on the goal."
That goal is simple – to place as many wrestlers in the top four of their respective weight class to qualify for the Class AAAAA East Sectionals next weekend at Cambridge High School.
The top eight wrestlers at sectionals from each weight class move on to the State Traditional Tournament at the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Feb. 13-15.
But Walker said the Bulldogs haven’t talked about sectionals or state. Their focus has been on today and tomorrow, a traditional meet that is the first hurdle in the stretch run of the season.
"We haven’t talked about anything past this weekend," Walker said. "We don’t want to look too far into the future. Right now, we want to get past this weekend so we can perfect the little thing before sectionals. We’re just going to take it one match at a time, one takedown at a time."
Pope is the reigning 7-AAAAA traditional champion and figures to be the favorite again. Last season, the Greyhounds had nine individual area champions and qualified wrestlers in every weight class to both sectionals and state. They eventually won the Class AAAAA championship, their third in a row.
But, in reality, Pope’s dominance has little effect on Central. The Bulldogs just need a wrestler to finish in the top four of their weight class, and they get to wrestle another week.
The past two weeks of dual meets and traditional-style tournaments have shown Walker that Central has "some guys who can do some damage," he said.
The Bulldogs won four straight duals to end their dual season 22-18. Kistler has finished runner-up at 113 at the past two tournaments. Troutt made his first finals appearance of his high school career at the Bulldog Brawl.
Even when severe weather cancelled practices this week, Walker called his team and found them training on their own, still focused on the ultimate goal.
"Whatever happens, we’re going to adapt and do what we have to do to succeed," Walker said.