The Eagles have had their fair share of success during tournaments this season and brought a trophy home from the Class A State Duals in January with a fourth-place finish. A strong showing this weekend will send wrestlers to the Class A West Sectional and that much closer to Macon.
“This week has been very focused working on things we’re not very good at. Trying to get better, trying to polish, trying to refine our technique, trying to get healthy in some cases and just hoping we can make it through area and get to the sectional tournament. Just one more step on that ladder going up to the state tournament,” MZ coach Michael Cleek said.
One sign of how far the Eagles have come the past few years is the opportunity to host the area meet, something Cleek believes is an honor from the state. It gives MZ the comfort of not having to travel while showing off a little bit.
“It’s an honor and it’s a privilege. It’s a chance for us to showcase our facilities. We’re really proud of them and we hope everything runs smooth and everyone’s pleased so we get a chance to host it next year. It’s a real honor for the state to trust us with something like this,” Cleek said.
Even after a fourth-place finish in the state duals, the road to Macon isn’t an easy one — especially in Area 3-A. The Eagles will have to deal with Class A Duals state champions Gordon Lee, as well as some tough competition from other teams in the stingiest of four Class A areas.
“I feel good, but at the same time, there are some real threats out there. Darlington, where they don’t match up so well against us in a dual, they are really strong in some certain spots. They’ve got about three or four kids that are going to come through and place very high in their weight class in this tournament. Then Trion is a really young team, but has solid guys, as well. I think those are going to be the teams really tough outside of us,” Cleek said.
“Then a team nobody has talked about in the area, and we had a seed meeting last night, Walker has about three guys in the middle of their lineup that seem to be — on paper — as good as anybody on this side of the state that we didn’t even know about. It’s going to be interesting to see how things play out this weekend.”
The usual suspects will be expected to lead the Eagles on Saturday in Will Sizemore, Fernando Valles and Javier Martinez. The tri-captains guide the squad on and off the mats, setting the tone for success.
Sizemore, the junior heavyweight, did not wrestle last weekend, while Valles (145) took second and Martinez (132) finished third at the Bowdon Invitational in final preparation for area.
“I think they realize the burden that’s on their shoulders. They are the ones that the rest of the team look to for leadership. And as they go, so will the rest of the team. If they go out there and fight hard, I think it will inspire the younger kids and some of the ones that have been following them for years to step up their game. I think it’s going to bode well for us if those three wrestle well,” Cleek said.
Outside of his main three wrestlers, the MZ coach has his eye on three other Eagles to make a splash this weekend.
“I am really excited to see how my 106 and 113 pounders do. Ashton Robinson at 106 and Hunter Smith at 113 could really, really make a little noise this weekend. I’m really excited about them,” Cleek said. “Then Efren [Valles] is just a ninth-grader, but he’s been real solid and has improved a great deal here at the end. As far as placing high, I think our best opportunity to sneak a kid in as an area champ is going to be at 220 with Eugene McClure.”
The Eagles have gotten themselves to a point where they are not just satisfied qualifying a couple individuals, they want to take as many as they can to Macon to have a shot not just at individual placers, but a possible team trophy. The bad news is that the area is tough — the good news is that whoever makes it to Darlington for the sectionals has a very good shot of showing up in Macon.
“I’ve been trying to downplay it, but I think we’re to the point now where we have to realize it is quickly becoming a numbers game for our guys. We know Gordon Lee is going to have a large number. The good news is that, I feel like, whatever we get through area should go through to the state tournament because our area is significantly stronger than the other area we match with,” Cleek said. “If we don’t get through but eight or nine, it will be eight or nine really good kids, as far as how they stack up.”