Lee County wrestling stars and head coach, from left, Chris Rapley, Colton Grove, Alex Davis, coach Tom Matheny, Brandon Erickson and Devon Yelverton, will lead a group of 13 wrestlers from the Region 1-AAAAA champion Trojans into the GHSA sectional tournament, which begins today in Allatoona. Lee is expecting the best results in program history. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
LEESBURG — If they could just pin down the school, maybe life would be different for the Lee County High School wrestlers, who have the kind of program any school would envy but often go almost unnoticed.
The Trojans, who not only won their third consecutive region title last week but ran away with it again, will send 13 of its 14 wrestlers to Allatoona today and Saturday for the GHSA sectional meet in hopes of making a strong showing at next week’s Class AAAAA state meet.
“I think we can get five to state,’’ said Tom Matheny, who took over the program three years ago and has watched it soar.
Matheny then added with a laugh: “We’re hoping to get three to place at state. If we don’t get those three to (qualify for state), they’re coming home another way. They won’t be on the bus.”
That’s the attitude at Lee County, where the Trojans have emerged as a power in Southwest Georgia.
“We feel like we should beat anyone in Southwest Georgia and most of the teams in South Georgia,’’ said Alex Davis, who won the Region 1-AAAAA title in the 132-pound weight class. “Our attitude is, ‘We shouldn’t lose.’ ’’
Lee dominates schools in its class in this part of the state and even wrestled Class AAAAAA Valdosta, which has a strong program this season. Lee won 12 of its 14 regular-season matches. Then at the Region 1-AAAAA tournament, the closest team to Lee was second-place Harris County, which was 30 points out of first place.
But now comes the big step, the sectionals. There are no team scores at sectionals, just qualifying for state. Lee sends five region champs to the sectionals: Davis, Kyler Morgan (145 pounds), Chris Rapley (152), Colton Grove (220) and Collins Tensley (182). Tensley is only a freshman and Morgan is a junior. Matheny hopes all five make it to state along with Devon Yelverton, a senior who was second at the region meet at 138 pounds. He lost to the No. 3 ranked wrestler in the state, 6-3, in the final in a match that could have gone either way.
“To tell you the truth, I hope all 13 get to state,’’ said Matheny, who loves to joke with his kids and motivates them in countless ways. He has developed a program that demands hard work and sacrifice and a summer program that has seen a major change at all levels of wrestling in Leesburg.
“It takes a lot of sacrifice,’’ Matheny said. “We will get 45 to 50 kids come out for the wrestling team and maybe 25 will stay.’’
This could be a landmark finish for the Trojans.
Matheny has high hopes that Yelverton, Davis and Grove can place in the top six at the state meet, which is next weekend in Macon. All three are ranked in the top five in their weight class in the state rankings.
“I think Lee has had six or maybe seven wrestlers place at the state meet over the years,’’ Matheny said. “We’ve never had three place in the state meet at the same time. I’ve got confidence they can do it. They need to have that confidence they can do it.’’
That would be another big step for a program that has made giant strides in the past three years. At Lee County, they expect to win on the mat.
“It’s gotten way better since my freshman year,’’ Yelverton said. “Since we started summer wrestling three years ago, we’re a lot better. That’s been the biggest difference. We never really did summer wrestling before.’’
Lee has dominated the region, and this year’s group could be one of the best — if not the best — in Lee history. Matheny said his kids have a chance to finish higher than any Lee team at the state meet.
“We’ve been around 20th, 21st at state,’’ said Matheny, who understands the powerhouse teams from North Georgia and the Atlanta area are a different animal from the teams in the southern half of the state. “I think this year we could get in the Top 20.’’
Davis, who has a 39-10 record with 17 pins, Yelverton, who is 38-7 with 22 pins, and Grove, who is 31-7, all believe the Trojans can finish in the top six at state — or higher.
“We want to get on the podium, and that means sixth or better,’’ Yelverton said. “We better place third or better at the sectionals, and we better get on the podium at state.’’
Davis said he believes all three can make a showing at the state meet.
“For the three of us, it’s our last chance as seniors,’’ he said. “We’ve been wrestling together for the last 10, 12 years. This is it for us.’’
The program has already made another strong statement by sending 13 of its 14 wrestlers to the sectionals, which is even more remarkable considering Lee has five freshmen who start on the wrestling team.
“We’ve got five seniors and five freshmen,’’ Matheny said. “So we’ve got a mix of experience and inexperience.’’
Sophomore Lamar Wynn, who was second at the region meet at 126, is the head of the underclassmen, but Lee is loaded with youth and what the young kids learn this weekend at the sectionals could be invaluable later.
Four freshmen qualified for the sectionals: Denver Vaughn was third at the region meet at 106, Eric Hunter was fourth at 113, Slater Cruz was second at 120 and Tensley took home the region title at 182. Three juniors qualified for the sectionals. Nick Bruner was third at 160, Ian Grimsley was second at 170 and Morgan was a region champ. Senior Brandon Erickson finished fourth at 285.
For all the success the wrestling program has produced, the kids don’t get much recognition at school.
“Nobody really knows about us. When I won the region, I think maybe five people congratulated me,’’ Davis said. “It doesn’t bother us. We’re kind of used to it.’’
Yelverton said the school might not notice, but the Trojans’ opposition does.
“Being respected by our opponents is better than being well-known at school,’’ he said. “Our opponents know who we are.’’
CLASS AAAA TEAMS HEAD FOR SECTIONALS AT PICKENS COUNTY: Crisp County, which was second in the Region 1-AAAA meet last week, is sending every wrestler to the Class AAAA sectionals today at Pickens County.
“I feel pretty confident that we can qualify four or five for state,’’ said Crisp County coach Todd George, whose team barely lost the region title, just 2 1/2 points behind region champ Cairo.
The Cougars are sending four region champs to the sectionals: Dillion Richter (182), George Harvey (195), Kuan Daniel (220 and Charles McKenzie (285). Richter finished sixth at last year’s state meet. Crisp also sends eight wrestlers who finished second at the region, including the first six weight classes. Corey Nipper (106), Dauntae Saliford (113), Adarius Pruitt (120), Tykory Smith (126) Alberto Gomez (132), Alex Pollock (160) and Cameron Paul (170) all finished second at the region meet. Antwan Stubbs (152) was third and Zach Minshew (145) qualified for the sectionals with a fourth-place finish.
Monroe is sending five wrestlers to the sectionals, including Lanessha Franklin, a young lady who finished third at the region meet at 195. Jamil Upshaw was third at 160, and Brantavious Glanton (285), Jermaine Gaines (120) and Vonte Wilson (220) were fourth at the region meet to qualify for the sectionals.
Dougherty will send eight to the sectionals. Antwan Gillis (152) was second at the region meet, and Demetrius Lyons (113), Alvin Porter (132), Marlin Banks (138) Deon Randolph (170), Larvaris Sapp (182) and Zamenian Teneyck (285) finished third at the region meet. Nathaniel Ware (220) finished fourth at the region meet to make it to the sectionals.
Albany High is sending four wrestlers to today’s meet. Shaquille Jones (145) took third at the region meet and Brian Sawchyn (152), Deshawn Foster (132) and James Robinson (160) all took fourth to make it to the sectionals.
Westover is sending five wrestlers to the sectionals, including region champs Brandon Silverburg and Rondell Williams. Mason Maness, Austin Cave and Raheem Wright also qualified for the sectionals.