In the run up to the Area Duals wrestling tournament hosted by Dawson County High School on Jan. 11 the focus for the Tigers’ head coach Aaron Haynes was simply “getting everyone healthy.”
Starting from the first match of the season, in which the team experienced two concussions, the Dawson County Tigers have been battling injury at nearly the same pace as they have been battling opposing schools.
Just to reach the Area Duals, the wrestling equivalent of a regional tournament, the Tigers fought through a series of concussions, separated shoulders and cracked ribs. At times the team was forfeiting more matches than they were fighting.
“It’s just one of those kinds of years,” Haynes said. “We just don’t and haven’t had what we need.”
Down only two wrestlers at the opening, the Tigers entered the eight-team tournament as healthy as they have been all season. Still the loss of those two athletes caused a handful of adjustments to the team line-up according to volunteer assistant coach Gregg Adams.
“We are having to bump some guys up a weight class,” said Adams. “Having to move some around.”
Facing off against Lumpkin County in the first contest of the day, the Tigers held their own in the opening matches with co-captains DJ Mitchell (SR) and Ethan Powell (JR) along with sophomore Kincaid Schuette all picking up wins.
Unfortunately, the Indians overwhelmed the Tigers in the remaining matches and, combined with the two forfeits, knocked Dawson County from contention for the top prize by handing them their first loss of the day.
Only the top two teams of the tournament qualify for a berth in the Georgia High School Association state tournament, and Dawson County still had a slim chance to claim their spot so long as they could successfully wrestle through the loser’s bracket.
The Tigers started that journey against the Greater Atlanta Christian Spartans who entered the match after their first-round loss to the North Hall Trojans.
Again, Mitchell, Powell and Schuette won their individual matches to give the Tigers the early lead. This round they were followed by wins from juniors Logan Buytendorp and Josh Dea, along with senior Danny Phillips and the Tigers handily defeated the Spartans to keep their slim hopes alive.
Sadly, a pair of re-aggravated injuries increased the number of forfeits for Dawson County heading into their next match before the team set foot on the mat for the third-round battle with regional rival Fannin County.
“With the injuries or guys were already fighting and the new ones that showed up today, I decided to focus on the team’s health,” Haynes said. “Now we’re looking ahead to getting them ready for the individual tournament in a couple of weeks.”
In the face of six forfeits from the start, Dawson County entered the fourth round with no chance of winning the contest and the Tigers were eliminated from the tournament with their second loss of the day coming at the hands of the Rebels.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the other teams here today. These teams are wrestling really well, very physical,” Haynes said. “Our area has been tough this year and is very evenly matched across the board.”
As anticipated, the top-ranked North Hall Trojans squared-off against the second-seeded Lovett Lions in the championship dual. After a hard-fought battle that featured some of the area’s elite wrestlers, North Hall emerged as the 2019-2020 Area 5-AAA champions.
The Tigers will wrap up the regular season with a pair of home matches on Jan. 21 and Jan. 28 in Ford Phillips Arena before travelling to Lovett for the Area Traditonals on Jan. 31.