Georgia 4A Area 7 Season Preview
Team Race: If you can watch just one 4A Area Tournament, whether Dual or Traditional, be sure to get to Ridgeland (Duals) on January 8th/9th or Pickens on (January 29th/30th). 4A Area 7 features many of the best teams and individuals in 4A. Gilmer and Northwest Whitfield went at it in the Dual State Finals and four teams (Gilmer 1st; Northwest Whitfield 6th; Heritage 10th; Ridgeland 14th) finished in the top 15 at the Traditional State Tournament. With the depth in Area 7 you’d expect quite a battle for the top spot, but that didn’t happen last season and it doesn’t seem likely in 2016. Gilmer has been absolutely dominant and with three State Champions, two State Runners-up, two State Placers, and three additional State Qualifiers returning it isn’t likely to happen in 2016. But the battle for the #2 spot should be fantastic. Heritage returns 120 lb. State Champion Charles Thurman, State Placer Daniel Jernagin and State Qualifier Dylan Jernagin, Northwest Whitfield returns State Placer Bryon Gembe and five State Qualifiers, and Ridgeland returns 220 lb. State Runner-up Chris Henderson and welcomes super freshman Jacob Mariakis. All three teams should battle it out behind Gilmer. Keep an eye on Southeast Whitfield.
Contenders: A season ago, Area 7 featured six State Champions, four of which return to defend their title in 2016; Six State Runners-up, three of which return to claim the top step in 2016; and countless State Placers. To say the Area is rich in talent would be an understatement. Gilmer’s Lucas Patterson, Levi Seabolt, and Matthew Waddell as well as Heritage’s Charles Thurman and Pickens’ Koby Milner are all back to defend their titles. Each enters the 2015-2016 season as the favorite. State Runners-up Trevor Preece and Domingo Reynosa of Gilmer and Chris Henderson of Ridgeland just missed out on the top step in 2015. Expect each to be back with a vengeance in 2016. Alberto Perez and Keegan Sharpe of Gilmer and Byron Gembe of Northwest Whitfield finished 5th and Daniel Jernagin of Heritage took 6th in 2015. Each has an outside shot at the top step in 2016.
Hunting the Podium: Thirteen 2015 State Qualifiers return in 2015-2016 and each will be looking to land a spot on the podium in 2016. Each has a great shot of earning a medal, having been to Macon in 2015, but given their 2015 performance, it appears the Coty Carlock, Tommy Davis, Jordan Lewis and Michael Robles of Northwest Whitfield, Devondre Walker of Cartersville, Tyler Brown and Garrett McClure of Southeast Whitfield, Luis Esteban and Jake Parker of Gilmer, and Dylan Jernagin of Heritage have the best shot at the podium. Each won a match or more at the 2015 State Tournament and will be looking to better that mark in 2016. Keep an eye on Enrique Jacinto of Gilmer, Dylan Pittman of Northwest Whitfield, and Jose Chavez of Southeast Whitfield. Each struggled at the 2015 State Tournament, but expect that to change in 2016. We do not like to hype incoming freshmen (as we have stated in other previews), but feel it is important to recognize when one comes along that has the potential to do some big things. Be sure to keep an eye on Ridgeland’s Jacob Mariakis. He had a terrific summer and pre-season and should be considered one of the favorites to find the podium in 2016 (perhaps the top step).
Under the Radar: In an Area as tough as Area 7, these wrestlers could emerge and do quite well on the bigger stage. Keep an eye on the following: Nick Root of Cartersville, Dan Puac of Gilmer, Blake Bryant and Zaine Burton of Heritage, Josh Dunagan of Northwest Whitfield, Wes Story of Lafayette, Kyle Tidwell of Pickens, and Jake Clayton of Ridgeland.
NOTE: Fred Jones (2nd, 113, Sr.) - meaning 2nd last season at the Traditional State Tournament at 113 lbs. Is a Senior in 2015-2016.