The Mt. Zion High School wrestling coach couldn’t have scripted a better weekend in playing host to the 10th Annual Screamin’ Eagle, as his squad captured its first title in the decade-long history of the tournament’s running on Saturday with 196 team points, well ahead of second-place Pepperell (152.5) and third-place Villa Rica (146) in the 10-team showdown.
And Saturday’s festivities — which featured three Eagle wrestlers also claiming individual titles — came on the heels of a 3-0 performance on Friday night in the dual portion of the two-day affair. Needless to say, it’s been an action-packed past few days for the MZ wrestling program.
“It’s been a good weekend — a great weekend. I’m really excited. I mean, I can’t say enough about how excited we are with what we’ve done and with where we’re going,” Cleek said. “This is just a sign of good things from Mt. Zion, in general. It’s just like a real positive attitude has permeated the whole school. Everybody is working hard, and it’s showing in our athletics program. Be it football, basketball, wrestling — all of our kids are working hard and doing their best.”
A trio of first-place triumphs led the way for the Eagles on Saturday in Ashton Robinson at 106 pounds, Jesse Henderson (182) and Will Sizemore (hvy.), while Hunter Smith (120), Fernando Valles (145), Daniel Anderson (195) and Nathan Whaley (220) all recorded runner-up finishes. Third-place efforts went out to Javier Martinez (132) and Ronald Tolbert (hvy.), with Cody Meeks (113), Efren Valles (138) and Tryston Cash (160) rounding out the Eagles’ placers in fourth.
Along with Mt. Zion’s strong showing, Villa Rica proved to be the other big winner locally, taking home some hardware with the third-place team trophy and getting three individual champions, as well.
“This is huge for the program. I mean, we came here last year and placed seventh. And I felt like coming into this week, I thought we had a chance to place. We did exactly what I thought was possible,” noted third-year VR coach Kyle Seeley. “There’s still a lot to work on, though. We can’t be satisfied with just this or hang our hat on this for the rest of the season. We’ve got a long way to go. I know a few of the boys feel that they could do a little bit better. So we’re going to get back after it on Monday and start working toward North Paulding, a region match on Wednesday night.”
Josh Ivey (113), Tristan Ware (132) and Chris Bailey (152) captured first-place finishes for the Wildcats, while Daniel Holland (160) took second, Michael Hurley (113), Sam Preston (120) and Rafi Blount (138) came in third and Austin Bailey (106), Austin Roper (126) and Demetris Flemister (220) finished fourth.
Seeley said it’s great to see his two seniors — Ivey and Holland — have strong performances, along with Ware, who is just a sophomore.
“[Holland] probably wrestled the best he’s wrestled all year long. We had several thirds and several fourths. So I’m extremely proud of them. But we’ve just got to get right back after it on Monday and get working for the rest of the season,” Seeley said.
Cleek also had high praise for how far the VR program has come in a short time under Seeley’s direction.
“I’ve got to give a lot of compliments to coach Kyle Seeley and the Villa Rica Wildcats for having one of the most improved teams from one year to the next that I’ve seen anywhere. They’ve got a great group of kids that worked really hard. Joe Knight’s Pepperell Dragons looked real good. We just had a good day of competition,” Cleek said.
Temple, which finished eighth as a team (48), had a pair of wrestlers — Chuck George (182) and Justin Hill (195) — take third for first-year Tiger coach Wallace Hall.
“They did remarkably well. Our guys performed beyond expectations. We’re a young team and we showed our grit. I think it was a challenge, and we stood up to the challenge,” Hall said.
The Temple coach said both grapplers are at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to experience, but he is looking forward to seeing good things from both guys on the mat this year.
“[Hill] is a senior and whatever they taught him at Bremen, I like it. He’s just our leader. He’s the guy that we rely on when the coaches are not there. We’re just trying to work on his weight and his conditioning. But as far as technique and everything, he came with a lot and we’re just trying to enhance what he already has,” Hall said.
“[George] is one of our best football players that decided to try wrestling. He’s an aggressive guy and he’s one of our leaders. He’s just a sophomore, so we expect big things out of him.”
Bremen had its ‘B’ team on hand to compete Saturday and it came in a tie for sixth place with 101 points, led by first-place finisher Tristan Williams (145). Rounding out the Blue Devils’ placers were Luke Dewberry (106) and Carter Carrollo (126) in second, Trent Jarrell (152) in third and Cornelius Driver (182) in fourth.
“It was a pretty good day for a bunch of young guys. We got better. It’s good to see some of the teams around here in our area that have really improved. They did real well,” Bremen assistant coach Jon Whiddon said. “We just came down here to get some mat time, and we got that. Our kids did well. We’ve still got some things to improve, but it’s early in the year.”
And while it proved to be a busy weekend of action, the focus now is continuing to get time on the mat and taking more positive steps toward the ultimate goal.
“We’ve just got to build on this momentum. We’re going to Landmark next weekend. Hopefully, we can have some guys come through, place there and maybe have a good showing and just keep it rolling right on into the state tournament,” Cleek said.
“All of this is mat time and practice and drilling to get our guys into condition and into shape and to get into the state tournament. Then, it’s just who wants it more? I really think my group of boys are hungry this year. They’re working really hard.”
And while Mt. Zion has its sights set on bigger and better things this season, Cleek certainly didn’t want to downplay the significance of what winning the first-ever Screamin’ Eagle crown meant to the team and program Saturday.
“It’s huge for this group of kids. This is one of the best groups of kids that I’ve ever had. They’ve worked so hard and I’m proud for them,” Cleek said. “We’ve done this tournament for a long time and we’ve always been third or fourth. You know, I don’t care about the field, it just feels good to bring home the big trophy.”