When Madison County starts its wrestling season Friday, it will send what looks to be a strong sophomore class out onto the mat.
Twins Cody and Colton Phillips along with Kyle Bates and Tanner Johnson highlight a nucleus of 10th graders that head into 2008-2009 looking to build on strong rookie campaigns.
“The twins and Bates, I think they won like 38 matches (last year),” Raider coach Richie Houston said. “For a freshman to come in and win almost 40 matches is not a bad thing … They’ll be a year better, they’ll be a year bigger.”
Both the Phillips brothers and Bates were one win shy of qualifying for state last year.
Also falling one victory short of the state tournament last year was Michael Kilpatrick, the team’s lone returning senior starter this year.
Kilpatrick heads a three-man senior class, which includes Chris Savage and Matt McCannon.
Still, Houston feels the team is “a little ways off,” as far as matching-up well in dual match competition given the number of new Raider wrestlers joining the mix this season.
And with new weight protocol requirements this year, it might take a couple of weeks to decide which wrestlers will wrestle in which division.
“I think the first week or two our team lineup is kind of going to be a mix and match and we may have some holes,” Houston said. “But after we get through the first couple of weeks, I think it will be a solid lineup.”
As for the region, Houston expects Rockdale County to field one of the best teams in 8-AAAA as well as Loganville, which Houston said has loads of talent.
“They’ve got the best crop of athletes coming through they’ve had in six or seven years,” Houston said.
Houston also noted that Clarke Central should be strong as well.
Gone from 8-AAAA this year due to realignment are Eastside, Alcovy, Dacula and Jackson County, while Monroe Area and Apalachee join the fold.
“It’s not going to be quite as tough as it has been the last couple years; it’s still going to be tough,” Houston said.
Speaking of tough, the criteria to qualify for state just got more demanding.
Seeking to strengthen the perception of wrestling in Georgia nation-wide, the state’s high school coaches altered the structure of the postseason.
The top four wrestlers from each region will now advance to a state sectional — not directly to the state tournament as in years past.
The top eight wrestlers then making it out of those two sectionals move on to a 16-man bracket at state.
That insures that the very best wrestlers compete at state.
“It’s a good thing. It needed to happen,” Houston said of the rule change.
It’s Houston’s hope that Madison County can send six-to-seven wrestlers to sectionals. But it’s also early to start making predictions, he noted.
“I’d be lying if I said I had all the answers right because we’re just going to kind of feel it out and see what’s going to happen at this sectional,” Houston said.