TIFTON — Tift County wrestlers will get the ultimate shot at proving their mettle this week. State wrestling tournaments start at the Macon Coliseum Thursday.
Four wrestlers will enter the big dance for the Blue Devils, Caleb Barber at 106 pounds, Timothy Wright (138), Gerald Coney (182) and Garrett Sumner (285).
“Overall, I was proud of them,” said head coach Shawn Watson of his wrestlers’ performance at sectionals last week. Every Tift entrant except one won at least one match at the competition, which took place in Perry.
The 2020 state tournament starts at 9 a.m. Thursday, with the first two rounds taking place. Action resumes Friday with the consolation quarterfinals and semifinals, as well as the winner’s bracket semifinals. Places will be determined Saturday. If anyone makes it to the championship match, those are to begin at 2:30 p.m.
Barber placed eighth at sectionals.
“He’s got his work cut out for him,” said Watson. Barber, who enters with a 41-19 record, will square off against Cherokee’s Jacob Silka in the first round. Silka is the 106-pound favorite, said Watson.
Wright improved to 28-13 after his fourth place sectional finish. At the tournament, he made it all the say to the semifinals before losing to a wrestler from Collins Hill. Wright rebounded with a consolation semifinal victory before dropping a 9-7 decision for third place.
Watson likes Wright’s bracket. “I think he has a good chance to place,” he said. Wright will first face Holden Teillon of Lambert.
Coney has the best chance to place out of any Tift County competitors. He took third a year ago. “He should be fine,” said Watson. Coney was second at sectionals. He had earned a first round fall in 15 seconds, followed by technical falls via 16-1 and 18-1 scores.
The first place presented a particular challenge. Garrett Spikes of Mountain View is long and lean, described by Watson as a “cradle maniac.” Coney worked himself out of two cradle attempts, but fell prey to a final one. The loss was only the second of the year for Coney; he’s now 44-2.
Coney’s first round has him facing Payton Toth of Newnan.
As for Sumner, Watson feels he is peaking at the right time. The heavyweight is 33-10 after taking seventh at Perry. “Garrett’s in a good spot,” he said. Sumner takes on Darius Green of Forsyth Central in his opener.
Madison Cox, the lone female for the Blue Devils, almost made her way to state. Cox was fourth in the girls bracket, going 2-2 in competition. While two wins would have been enough to send her to state in the boys bracket, girls had to finish first or second.
“Madison wrestled great,” said Watson. “I think she gained a lot of great experience.”
Watson might have had even more state qualifiers had it not been for a particularly nasty injury bug during the final weeks of the season. Alex Fulford suffered a knee injury at team duals, ending his season early. Garrett Westberry and Dalton Hancock both qualified for sectionals, but a fractured orbital bone (Westberry) and dislocated shoulder (Hancock) kept them out.
If the losses of those grapplers weren’t enough, one more had to miss out on a chance to go to state.
Quay Goldsborough, a state qualifier in 2019, won his first round match at 126 pounds and needed just one more victory to punch his ticket. Then came the match against Colquitt County’s Michael Bledsoe. The two bashed heads in the match, knocking both to the mat. Both recovered.
The match went to overtime, when it happened again. Goldsborough was a bit slower to his feet and though Watson said Goldsborough was alert and able to answer questions, the match was stopped.