The Blue Devils will host this weekend's Area 2-AA Dual Meet, with the top two teams earning a trip to Macon for the GHSA State Dual Meet.
For the Blue Devils, that means a chance to bounce back from a third-place finish at last year's Class A State Duals after three straight titles. Although the focus is on the traditional meet in February, Bremen will still come out ready to go this weekend.
"I don't know if there's more hunger in them. We want to do well in the dual meet and see what we can get done, but I've always been more of a February kind of guy. February's when it all really matters. I'd take a state title in the duals in January, but we just see what we can get done and see how it goes," Bremen coach Tony Armas said.
Bowdon and Temple will also be joining the rest of the area for one of those top spots and a chance to compete on the state stage.
Last year, the Red Devils finished fourth in their area in Class A, a spot that had them miss out on state. This year, they are a more mature team, but are facing some higher-quality competition to try and get to Macon.
"It's a lot different since we bumped up to AA, that's no surprise to anybody. Just a lot of tough wrestling. We're sitting here looking at the possibility of 13 or 14 teams being there. We're still young, by experience means. We still have a lot of growing up to do, but I think we have made some big strides this year and have made some good additions," Bowdon coach Craig McWhorter said. "It's the competition level. We can't worry about the Bremens or the Spencers, we've got to worry about Bowdon."
Along with their state-placers from a year ago in Avery McWhorter and Saeje Brown, Bowdon brings in freshmen Tyler Smith and Hunter Jones, have senior Connor Wigginton back on the team, got Hunter Lewis back from a knee injury and have Travis Strickland and Trevor Strickland, who will be expected to step up this weekend.
"We're excited. We went last year and we were fourth in our area last year. We're excited that it's close to home and maybe more people can come to see it. We've done a lot better this year. We're currently sitting 8-3 as a dual team, which is better than we were last year," Craig McWhorter said. "We're wrestling a lot smarter and putting a lot more into it this year and that comes with being older."
The road won't be an easy one for Temple, which will give up four weight classes right off the bat, meaning the 10 it competes in will be crucial to win.
"I think we should have a decent showing at the duals if we're ready to compete," Temple coach Wallace Hall said. "We haven't had a full squad, and this is something that I've been working on. We're giving up about four weight classes, and that's a problem … we feel like we do have a chance to compete in the weight classes we are competing in. It's just an unfortunate turn of events that we don't have the two highest or the two lowest weight classes."
So the focus, while trying to earn a trip to state, will just be staying competitive and keep improving as the season goes on.
"It's been a long layoff from the break, so we practiced all week and just want to see the guys compete. I think we've shown improvement from the beginning up until our last meet, which was a couple weeks back. Going into the new year, we feel like we can compete and grow," Hall said.
The Red Devils will go in with a similar approach, as they will use this weekend's area dual as a chance to prepare for the traditional area meet coming up in February.
"Just the mat time. Then, at the same time, seeing who you're going to see at the [traditional] area tournament. I think a lot of people are going to show their hand a little bit about what weight classes people are going to be in. That's what we're in it for. We're going to win it, but at the same time, see how we stack up against the competition in our area," McWhorter said.
There is also an element of the unknown for Bremen, which has been competing in Class A until this year. Some teams will be familiar, but others will force the Bremen grapplers and coaches to learn as they go.
"It's going to be different, because there are so many different teams. I think Spencer is very good. I don't know what Lamar County or Monticello have. The others I sort of have some idea of what's going on. Heard will be OK and have some big guys. We'll just see what we can get done this weekend," Armas said.
But, most importantly, is the ability to host the event. And while there is no worry about travel, some coaches might be overwhelmed by the logistics of hosting the event — but not Armas. Not only does the Bremen coach have experience hosting area and state sectional events, he also has a support staff that leaves little for him to do.
"We don't have to travel too much. I've got a great group of folks that I just say, 'This is what we need,' and they get it done. I don't really have to do a whole lot. I've got a great community here at Bremen that takes care of things and covers for my sorry tail, and that's nice," Armas said. "It's a unique kind of place."