While competing in Class A, the Blue Devils won four straight team traditional titles, but a move up to Class AA this year means reuniting with Georgia wrestling powerhouse Jefferson. Blue Devil coach Tony Armas did get some good news on Monday, as his 120-pound grappler, Jacob Bumgardner, who finished fifth at sectionals, will be filling in to make it nine Blue Devils headed to the Macon Centreplex. The action begins in Class AA on Friday afternoon at 1 with quarterfinals.
Class AA might be the most competitive classification with Bremen joining Jefferson, along with Greater Atlanta Christian. The Blue Devils got a taste of that at the Class AA West Sectional last weekend.
“We know somewhat what to expect, the tournament is a little deeper. The top guys are pretty much just like everybody else, but there’s a little more quality that I saw at the sectional than we had seen in previous years. That was sort of different for us. We’ve got to rock and roll,” Armas said. “I’m expecting a lot of close matches, a lot of tight matches where one move makes the difference.”
Armas noted that while Bumgardner’s addition to sectional champions Brock Cooper (132), Kannon Madden (152) and Joe Bexley (hvy), sectional runners-up Cory Morgan (126), Joseph Stroud (145) and Luke Campbell (113) and other qualifiers Tristan Williams (138) and Darron Boxley (170) makes nine, it doesn’t matter how many they bring unless they win matches and score team points.
Jefferson will come in as favorites to win the team title, qualifying in all but two of the 14 weight classes and the Blue Devils will have to do a little better in big matches than they did last weekend.
“We just don’t have the numbers I’d like to have. I’d like to have everybody going and then I’d feel a little better about our chances. I think Jefferson with 12 in, they’re definitely going to put a lot of points out there. I’m not sure if our nine is going to be able to stay with their 12. I figure it’s going to take about 25, 26 wins to win the state title, and I’m not sure if we can get that done on an eight-man bracket with nine kids. The most anybody can win is three. Three times nine is 27, and that’s right at what I’m figuring it’s going to take to win it,” Armas said.
In last year’s Class A state championship run, the Blue Devils took nine guys also and won 22 matches to take the title. But last year there wasn’t a team with 12, or the quality of the 12-time reigning state champion Dragons.
The Blue Devils will take three seniors in Morgan, Madden and Bexley, who are all defending state crowns, along with sophomore Brock Cooper. While the Bremen coach noted how special it would be for the seniors to go out on top, he also pointed out that the road is tough for all four defending champions.
“It would mean a lot. We’ve got kids that have been around us for a long time and have been successful. Just hope to finish up their career with a win at the state tournament. It’s going to be tough for all of them. Cory lost in the sectional final to a kid from Chattooga, Brock got beat by [Tanner] Thurmond from Jefferson in the dual. Kannon looks as good as anyone I’ve seen and Joe is just kind of beating people as best he can. If they wrestle him, they get in a lot of trouble. So they try not to wrestle him and just lose a six-minute match,” Armas said.
The other younger grapplers will also have to step up for the Blue Devils.
“We’ve got some younger guys coming through and hopefully they’ll have a successful tournament. Luke Campbell, Jacob Bumgardner, Tristan [Williams] is a two-time state placer and hopefully he can get another medal this week. Boxley is a state-placer from last year. Hopefully, he can find a way to get himself on the podium this weekend, also,” Armas said.
Even the grapplers that have the most experience approach this weekend a little differently.
“Actually, I’ve been kind of ornery with family and friends because it’s been a fun time and a fun part of my life and I’m going to miss it. It’s going to be over in a matter of days. It’s the only sport I do in high school. I do it year-round and I’ve made lots of memories. It’s a little bittersweet,” Morgan said.
For Madden, it is another approach.
“I plan on wrestling in college, so it’s not the end of the world. It still means a lot, but just going to do my job,” Madden said. “I just like to be calm before the storm. I like staying relaxed. It’s fun.”
Bexley is trying to cap off his career with an individual Class AA title to go along with a pair of Class A championships and a runner-up finish his freshman year.
“It means a lot. I don’t have a lot of pressure on my back. I just want to finish with a big win and go out knowing I accomplished all I could do,” Bexley said. “It would mean a whole lot [to win in AA]. It would mean a lot to the school, means a lot to all us wrestlers that all our hard work’s finally paid off. Would love to finish it with a AA title.”
The work has been put in and a shot at a fifth straight title is on the line, but there’s also that continued individual success.
“We’ll see what we can get done, though. Try to get some state champs, get some high state-placers,” Armas said.