Ask any wrestling coach and they’ll tell you the same thing: If you want to succeed, you’ve got to be able to weather the storm. Hardship in the early going, when handled with attention to detail and determination, can pay off when the matches matter most.
In the eyes of Forsyth Central head coach Jeremiah Walker, there’s not an obstacle that can get in the way of his Bulldogs. Not even an unrelenting winter storm, forcing the team to move back its hosting of the first ever Area 5-7A duals tournament, which was originally slated for Saturday.
So on Monday, the team will show up in the morning for classes, dismiss by lunch time and—without a chance at a preliminary practice—suit up and shoot for a title on its home floor, hoping to punch a ticket to the state duals for the first time in 11 seasons.
“Our team has experienced virtually every hardship this season and has overcome every challenge with tremendous fortitude,” Walker said.
“It’s been one of the most successful seasons of my career as a coach, despite all of the hiccups,” he said. “We’ve had elbow injuries, knee injuries and weight issues, anything you can think of.”
You could call it the perfect storm for Central, which gets to host the inaugural 5-7A duals on its home mats in one of the more unique arenas in the state—Central’s old dome, featuring unique architecture that Walker thinks caters to wrestling and could offer some home mat advantage.
“If it were me, I’d want to have every county event in that dome,” Walker said. “It’s perfect for wrestling. The fans are all elevated; the noise in there gets really loud. It’s kind of like a gladiator style arena.”
Leading the pack of Bulldogs will be senior Sebastian Legarra, who was recently offered to wrestle and play football for nearby Reinhardt University. He’s 42-2 this season in the 220 weight class, while Steven Messer has excelled from the starting gate in 106-113 with a 37-6 record; four of Messer’s losses came from wrestling up a weight class. Parker Evans and Hunter Kurowski have also excelled, and Walker points to a unique balance of five seniors and a group of freshman and sophomores to his team’s dynamic.
“We’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks,” Walker said. “Our goal is always the same—to win region, but we’ve got tough competition. We already lost to South. We already lost to Lambert.
“But, we’re ready to go,” Walker said.
Like Central, its rival North Forsyth has been calibrating through the early part of the year.
“It’s been somewhat frustrating due to inconsistency from wrestlers that we thought had turned the corner last season,” North head coach Travis Jarrard said. “We’re hoping that things will change over the course of the last half of the season. We’ve had lots of injuries. It seems like when one person gets healthy, another two get injured.”
Still, North has been led by Paul Watkins, who is 29-2 heading into duals. Conner Carroll at 170 leads the team in wins with a 32-4 record, while many in North’s lineup are still close to .500 or have missed significant time.
Lambert feels like it’s getting healthy at the right time. Eric Kohlins, a state runner up at 182 last year, is coming into region duals after defeating a state champ last week. Cole Burke, Daniel Morin, Ethan Young and Alex Doobleman are all wrestlers who head coach Kevin Contardi pointed to as wrestlers in a groove at the moment.
“We’ve had some key guys in and out of the lineup this season but we feel like we will be at 100 percent this weekend and look forward to competing for a spot to represent our region at state,” Contardi said.
West Forsyth and South Forsyth will be equipped to shuffle the board as well, but Walker hopes his team can come out on top at an opportune time.
“Eleven years,” Walker said. “Not just that, but a duals win would be the 100th for our senior class, which started here my first year, so that could be really special.”