Chattahoochee had the 2013 Area 6-AAAAAA wrestling duals all but sewn up before North Forsyth’s 23-point rally. In last year’s regular season, a major decision from Shane Cross in the deciding match gave North a win over the Cougars in a dual the Raiders had no business winning. The 2014 Area 6 duals were more of the same: North trailed by seven with two matches remaining, but a pin from Jake Nash at 126 and Luke Slaton’s major decision at 132 gave the Raiders another comeback win over Chattahoochee.
Add in the fact that North coach Travis Jarrard and Chattahoochee coach JJ Hicks were college roommates at Carson-Newman in Tennessee and the best man in each other’s weddings, and there’s no reason to expect Saturday’s Area 6 duals at Chattahoochee High School will be any less exciting.
Jarrard expects to have most of his lineup healthy and ready, though a roster at full-strength at this point in the grueling wrestling season is a rarity. The weeks leading up to Saturday have been shrouded in mystery, Jarrard said, as the two coaches play verbal poker.
“It’ll really be a matter of who the craziness affects most,” Jarrard said. “It’s not a matter of when, but if, craziness happens with these two teams. When it happens, who does it negatively impact?”
Two Chattahoochee injury defaults in 2013 sparked the North rally. A one-point penalty on a Chattahoochee coach during that regular-season dual last year, with the Raiders trailing by five, meant Cross only needed a major decision and not a pin for North to win—which Cross got.
“Freshmen and sophomores make up about half of my lineup this year,” Jarrard said. “Outside of the county duals, there’s really no way to prepare them for an environment like this. It’s pretty rare for a group of underclassmen—in any sport, really—to be competing for an area title.”
South and Lambert will wrestle in the quarterfinals Saturday for the right to face North in the semis. West has to beat Northview in the other quarterfinal in order to get a shot at Chattahoochee.
West coach Steven Stromie will have eight different starters from the group he trotted out at county due to injuries and other issues, but the Wolverines will have a full 14-wrestler lineup. Stromie said West needs its strongest stretch—120, 126, 132 and 138 pounds—to get big results for the Wolverines to advance.
Lambert, meanwhile, will also be without (at least) five regular starters because of injury on Saturday, some of whom the Longhorns hope to get back before the traditional area duals on Jan. 31.
“I wouldn’t wish our situation on anyone,” Lambert coach Kevin Contardi said.
If all goes to plan, North and Chattahoochee will get another shot at each other in the finals, where four matches could make the difference: Chase Tenety against Ethan Phillips at 120 pounds, Keigan Radake and Carrington Hill at 182, Hunter Loyd against Daniel Amram at 170, and Jackson Bardall against Alan Benton at heavyweight.
“Nothing really is hidden at this point,” Jarrard said. “[Coach Hicks] and I can sandbag [with each other] all we want, but we pretty much know all the options we could throw at each other.”