Optimism is high for the Rockdale County wrestling team, who learned of their first-round opponent in Thursday’s Class AAAAAAA state duals at the Macon Centreplex late Sunday night.
With seeding always playing a key role in how deep of a run a team will make at the state duals, regardless of overall talent, it appears Rockdale County’s chances of making a deeper run in this year’s duals is imminent.
The Bulldogs were met with a rude awakening in last year’s duals, losing to Collins Hill 52-17 in the first round. Collins Hill went on to finish third while the Bulldogs were bounced in the second round of the wrestlebacks against Colquitt County.
Making a return to this year’s state duals after winning the 8-AAAAAAA area duals title for a third straight year against Archer, Rockdale will take on North Paulding, the Region 3 runner-ups in Thursday’s first round.
First-year head coach Alonzo Allen, who was a part of Sunday’s seeding meeting, was happy to see where his team fell in the 16-team bracket.
“Seeding is important and getting a good draw is important, sometimes in placing in these types of tournaments,” Allen said. “At the end of the day, it all comes down to who is wrestling better and who is going to go out there and not back down to the challenge. I think we got a good seed. I haven’t heard much about (North Paulding), but I think we can take them.”
While Rockdale County hasn’t wrestled against North Paulding this season, the Bulldogs were able to defeat McEachern earlier this season. McEachern defeated North Paulding 38-24 to win the Area 3 title Saturday.
North Paulding then faced Hillgrove for true second, barely nipping the Hawks 41-34 to advance to the state duals. North Paulding went 0-2 in last year’s duals, losing to both Mountain View and South Forsyth.
If Rockdale was to advance to the second round at 6 p.m. on Thursday, the Bulldogs could meet West Forsyth, who will wrestle lower-seeded Newnan in first-round action. West finished as the 5-AAAAAAA runner-ups to North Forsyth after losing to the Raiders 30-21 in the finals.
The Bulldogs have not wrestled West this season, but have wrestled North twice. Rockdale earned a victory over North before losing to the Raiders later in the season. The Bulldogs’ loss to North came without standout wrestlers Ed Pollard (285), Robert Perez (126) and Antonio Lucero (138) in the lineup.
A matchup against West would set up a rematch between Pollard and Dylan Fairchild in the heavyweight bout. Pollard pinned Fairchild in the sectional finals last year before finishing as the state runner-up. Fairchild went on to finish third at state.
If the Bulldogs managed to defeat West in the quarterfinals, it would guarantee them no worse than a sixth-place finish in this year’s duals. Rockdale would likely meet No. 1 seed Camden County in the semifinals. A loss to Camden, who has won five straight state duals titles, would put the Bulldogs just one win away from a third-place bout on Saturday.
“Most people don’t want to be on Camden’s side, but being on that side is going to challenge us to see where we’re at for next year and for individual state,” Allen said. “Facing Camden in the semis would be great for us. I’m not scared to face them, at all. That will just help us to get better for the rest of the year.”
The Bulldogs haven’t reached the semifinals since the 2012-13 season, when they lost to eventual state champion Archer. They went on to lose to Brookwood in the consolation semis that year, 40-18.
Joining Rockdale at the state duals is Eastside, who finished as the 4-AAAA runner-ups behind tournament favorite Woodward Academy. Last season, the Eagles lost to Central Carrollton in the first round before losing to Chestatee in the wrestlebacks.
Entering this year’s state duals as one of the lowest seeds, the Eagles are set to challenge North Oconee in the first round, an opponent Earl Larimer’s team has its fair share of experience against.
Eastside crossed paths with North Oconee less than two weeks ago at the East Metro Duals and had several wrestlers match up with Titans throughout the tournament.
Both Owen Lane (106) and Chandler Day (138) lost to Titan wrestlers while Kyan Bennett (160) defeated North’s Sean O’Brien for third place.
Heading into Thursday, Larimer likes where his team is at.
“I feel like we’re wrestling well,” Larimer said. “I feel like if we wrestle well, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to make noise. Our team has gotten better and better over the weeks, so I feel like what we’re bringing to the table last week and this week will be our most solid team for the duals. We’re peaking at the right time.”