Heading into this wrestling season, Banks County head coach Kasey Hanley didn’t quite know what to expect, but he was excited about his team’s potential.
A year removed from a duals state championship, the Leopards were forced to replace five graduated starters in the starting lineup. But as the season progressed, the Leopards picked right up where they left off. And when all was said and done, Banks County was crowned as the Class AAA state runner up in the duals and traditional tournaments.
“Years like this are always very exciting,” said Hanley. “Last year when we won state duals, we knew that team should have competed for a state championship. This year, we didn’t have those same expectations. As the year goes on, you start doing better, you raise your expectations and begin to set higher goals. When we got to that point, we realized that these guys were really going to step up.”
Saturday, Banks County brought seven wrestlers to the Class AAA State Traditional Tournament at Buford High School. All seven Leopard competitors finished in the top-six in their respective weight classes, earning Banks County a total of 101 points. The Leopards finished second overall behind first-place Buford (156 points), while Elbert County finished third (95).
Sophomore Leopard Chris McCrackin earned his second consecutive individual state title in the 113-pound weight class.
McCrackin, who was 48-3 on the season, opened the tournament with an 18-2 technical fall victory over Justin Evans from Dade County. McCrackin pinned Taylor Merett of North Hall in the semifinals to advance to the championship round, where he defeated Bain Johnson of Elbert County by a 4-2 decision.
Hanley was not surprised in the least to see McCrackin earn a second state title, citing his work ethic and dedication to the sport.
“Chris McCrackin is a special kid,” said Hanley “He’s an extremely hard worker. He’s one of the only kids on our team that does anything extra, outside of what we require. If you want to be a state champion, you’ve got to be willing do the extra things that others aren’t willing to do. That’s what sets you apart. Chris has done those things.”
Hanley also noted that McCrackin consistently competes in national tournaments and combines.
“(McCrackin) tests himself against the best kids in the country,” said Hanley. “In the classroom, it’s the same story. He’s constantly trying to better himself. It’s no mystery to me why he’s had the most success in Banks County (wrestling) history.”
Phillip Dean (182-pounds) and Matt Dilbeck (220) were both crowned state runner-ups in their respective weight classes. Dylan Suttles (120) and Tony Fultz (138) finished third, while Wes Faulkner (160) and Tristan Guthries (152) both finished sixth.
“Coming into the tournament, our expectations as a coaching staff are very high,” said Hanley. “On paper, I had on paper how many points I thought we would score as a team – based on how we competed as a team this season. I thought my expectations were pretty accurate. I don’t think they were too high. I expect a lot out of the guys and I know how good that they are.”
While the Leopards finished just shy of state championships in both the duals and traditional tournaments, Hanley and his team certainly can’t be disappointed with their season’s results.
This year marked Banks County’s third top-five finish in the state duals, and only its second top-five finish in the traditional tournament. The seven medals the Leopards earned on Saturday were the most ever by a Banks County team at a state tournament.
Banks County has begun to establish itself as a consistent contender in Class AAA, but graduating eight starters this year will undoubtedly present the Leopards with some hurdles next season.
Even so, Hanley says his coaching staff and team are up for the challenge and look forward to establishing Banks County as a perennial power on the mat.
“Next year we will have some good kids coming back, but also some places where we are just completely untested,” he added. “I do like those seasons though. I like seeing those guys that have never been in the starting lineup really develop.”