After fighting through an impressive list of injuries, ranging from concussions and cracked ribs, to separated shoulders, which haunted the team all season long, the Dawson County Tigers wrestling squad emerged healthy and victorious in the final week of the 2019-20 regular season.
Giving his unit the best opportunity for success, Head Coach Aaron Haynes, for one of the few times this year, was able to field 12 of 14 weight classes on Senior Night, Tuesday, Jan. 28 and give his boys the chance to show the fans what they have been capable of all season long.
It was not an easy task, and the team still found themselves forfeiting two weight classes (145-pounds and 195-pounds) but the Tigers pulled off a clean sweep for the first time this season as they showcased their seniors for one final bout.
Despite giving away 12 points in each match, the Tigers pulled off back-to-back victories with a narrow 42-35 win over the Cherokee Bluff Bears and a dominating 58-24 bruising of the White County Warriors.
All five seniors that took the mat, Christian Harper, D.J. Mitchell, Jacob Payne, Danny Phillips and Logan Buytendorp secured wins on the night, either before or after being presented to the crowd along with their families and friends in between matches.
Bri Ray and Joey Toal, both battling injuries, were also celebrated during the final home match of the season.
“We sent the seniors off with two victories to end the regular season,” Haynes said. “As I’ve said all year, we’re not bad, we’re hurt and I’m just happy they got the chance to show what they can do.”
Riding the wave of momentum, the Tigers moved immediately into the Georgia High School Association’s Area 5-AAA traditional matches on Saturday, Feb. 1 hosted by the Lovett School in Atlanta.
Traditional matches differ from duals in that each wrestler, although still remaining within his weight class, is treated as an individual instead of as part of the overall team.
The day’s brackets were comprised of the wrestlers from each school in the Area with the top-4 finishers moving on to the State Sectionals on Feb. 7-8. Athletes that finished fifth or sixth in their respective brackets will be designated as team alternates for the post-season tournament.
Once again, a healthy Dawson County squad served notice to both their depth and talent as 10 of the 12 participating members qualified for the state tournament as either a competitor or an alternate.
“We felt like we could get five, maybe eight into the state tournament and we were able to pull through seven so I guess for the most part it went as expected,” Haynes said. “Overall, I felt like all of our wrestlers had a good day even if they did not qualify, they still wrestled well.”
Team co-captains Ethan Powell and Mitchell, along with Bradley Newton led the way with the team’s highest finishes. Powell picked up an Area bronze in the 126-pound category, while Mitchell snagged his bronze medal at 182-pounds. Newton rounded out the medal winners with a rare pin in the 220-pound arena.
Highlighting the future of Dawson County wrestling, a trio of young wrestlers fought their way into the final rounds and emerged as state qualifiers with fourth-place finishes at the end of the day.
Freshman Gavin Westbrook overcame a first-round loss to secure a state berth in his first year with the team, while second year wrestlers Kincaid Schuette and Trevor Cowart represented the Tigers’ sophomore class.
“Cowart was one of those wild cards,” Haynes said. “He is a testament to just how far heart can get you, he has the want to win matches. I cannot express how excited we are for him.”
Big man Danny Phillips, a senior, rounded out the state qualifiers with a hard-fought series of bouts in the 285-pound weight class to secure a fourth-place finish.
Seniors Harper and Buytendorp, along with sophomore Will Whalen secured their chance to wrestle in the state tournament as team alternates. In the event of an injury to qualified Area wrestler in their respective weight classes the alternate is called up to replace that athlete in competition.
“Wrestling is just such a physical sport and injuries happen,” Haynes said. “You would not believe how many alternates are actually used during the year.”
The final tournament of the season, the GHSA State Traditionals will take place at South Forsyth High School over the weekend of Feb. 7-8.