The top-seeded Wildcats absolutely steamrolled to the Region 7-AAAAA area duals title to return to the state tournament, which will begin Thursday in Macon, after a one-year absence.
“We did a lot of good things today,” Woodland head coach Adrian Tramutola said. “We had some younger kids get some matches. We held some older guys out this weekend who will be back next weekend. When we do what we’re capable of doing, we’re pretty good, we’re hard to beat.”
Meanwhile, the No. 3 seed Colonels took care of business in the quarterfinals and semifinals to reach the championship dual. Cass won just one bout against Woodland, but thanks to sixth-seeded Kell’s impressive run to third place, the Colonels avoided a “true second” match and qualified for state.
“We accomplished the goal of returning back to state duals,” Cass head coach D.L. Koontz said. “Now, the work really begins. Great, we placed second in our region, which is an accomplishment alone, but we’re really hunting placement down at state again. That’s the big thing, so at least we’re in position to do it.”
If area duals had taken place a few weeks ago, it might have been tough for Cass to finish in one of the top two qualifying places. Illness and injuries have kept the Colonels below their best for much of the season. But the team managed to get healthy enough to avoid the slip up Woodland suffered last year at this stage.
But they couldn’t best the Wildcats on this day.
“We wrestled Woodland earlier this year, and we only won three matches against them then,” Koontz said. “They’re loaded. I knew we weren’t going to be able to beat them, especially because we had a couple of guys dinged up in the previous match. I sat them, because I was worried about wrestling for a possible true second.
“Overall, Hiram was the two seed coming in, and we handled business there [in the semifinals] quite effectively at 64-12. … [Kell] definitely wrestled well, and that was a great first match for us.”
Defeating the Longhorns in the quarterfinals kept the Colonels from wrestling for a true second, but it was the dominant victory over the second-seeded Hornets that showed why Cass could make some noise during next week’s three-day tournament at the Macon Centreplex.
Kendall Arnold had the best individual day for the Colonels. Cass’ 152-pound wrestler pinned his first two opponents before picking up the team’s only win against Woodland. Noah Hoffmeier finished 2-0 on the day with a major win over Kell and a pin against Hiram before sitting out the championship round.
Like Woodland, Cass also utilized a large portion of its roster to keep people fresh and give some younger wrestlers valuable experience.
“If you want to continue being one of the better teams, your young guys have always got to be thrown into the fire and they need to be baptized by it,” Koontz said. “They’ve got to do their job. … That’s how we stay towards the top of everything. Those kids get thrown in the fire, and they wrestle above themselves.”
Woodland likewise has excelled at building depth in the same manner, which was one of the few positives to take out of the early months of last season. It helped the Wildcats easily dispatch of East Paulding, Carrollton and its Bartow County rival.
After Arnold’s triumph pulled Cass within 6-3, Woodland rattled off 12 straight wins. Three of those came via forfeit, but the Wildcats earned a vast majority of those points, rattling off four consecutive pins by Blake Cash, Bryce Shedd, Demarcus Williams and Jalen Hudson in the higher weight classes.
“You take it with a grain of salt,” Tramutola said of the win over Cass. “It’s us versus them, but we’re both trying to get out, which is our main goal. They held a lot of their starters out, in case they had to come back through [the true second match]. They’re battling the sick and injury bug, so the real assessment will come next weekend. Whether you’re one or two [in areas] it doesn’t matter. We’re both going to be in the bracket. From there, it’s who navigates through the best and does the best job.”
It’s hard to say who did the best job Saturday, considering the two powerhouse programs entered with different goals and expectations. Woodland emerged healthy and primed for a run at the state title.
“That’s one of the best teams in the state right there,” Koontz said of the Wildcats. “They may be the best team in the state at the end of [next] Saturday, to be honest with you. They’ve got a great lineup.”
And Cass proved its best wrestling this season is still ahead of it, as the Colonels enter the most important segment of the calendar.
“This is what we prepare for, everything else is warmup,” Koontz said. “They know that. All the tournaments were simply to get ready for this weekend [and the next few weeks]. …
“We’ve had a lot of kids who have lost during the year, but when they go into the state tournament, they’re hard to beat.”
While there was chaos all around it, the day proved to be straight forward for the No. 1 seed. Woodland, which has a good chance to be the top seed at state, can only hopes things go as smoothly when it makes the familiar trip next week to Macon.
“You win as a team, you advance as a team,” Tramutola said. “We try to get them to be as selfless as possible. It’s not about you. It’s about doing what we need in this match to get our team through.
“Right now, we’re 3-0, which is the first three rounds of the state tournament, as far as I’m concerned. We can’t be in any better spot than we are right now, so we feel good about it. Just have to have a good week of practice, have to do the right things and hopefully, we go into next week firing.”